Friday, November 7, 2008

What Ya Readin': Trying Things Twice

I have been reading Jan Struther's Try Anything Twice. You may know Jan Struther from her famous novel Mrs Miniver - made into a movie of the same name. Or, as I do, from the well known hymn "When a Knight Won His Spurs". I love the Libera version of it, and you can see and hear it on Youtube.

Try Anything Twice is a collection of essays. So many have captured my imagination but "Ainsworth-Zazoulian" has to be a favourite. I am very much a list person. I write them, revise them and make lists of my lists. Each morning I make my daily 'to do' list at work, and towards the end of the day make my "to do" list for the evening. "Ainsworth-Zazoulian" is about Jan Struther's re-writing of her address book. It starts off with a wonderful ode to list writers.

"There are people who never make lists, relying upon their memories or upon their friends' reminders; there are people who do make lists, but grudgingly and without relish, as a means to an end, like a Puritan making love; and there are people to whom making lists is an end in itself, a pure, abstract and never-failing delight.

To the third class I am happy, though not particularly proud, to belong. Not proud, because I know only too well that the habit of list-making, carried to excess, can waste a lot of time: many is the letter I might have written if I had not first made a list of the letters I intended to write. Happy, because - unlike most pastimes - it is cheap, harmless to other people, and independent of your age or your income. When I was eight I made lists of all my toys, of all the cooks we had ever had, of all the plays I had ever been to - not counting pantomimes, which I scorned - and of all the languages I claimed to know (the last was a longish one, because a single word of each was enough to count, and I had a good many uncles in foreign parts); and when I am eighty, no doubt, I shall still be at it, making grim little lists of all the things I meant to learn and all the places I never went to see.

As a day with a dry-fly on the Kennet is to a fisherman, so to a list-maker is the moment, all too seldom recurring, when he feels justified in treating himself to a new address-book. Address-book-making is the pinnacle, the fine fleur, of the listmaker's art. For one thing, it is not a flimsy, ephemeral affair, like a shopping-list, no sooner made than it begins to be marred by smug ticks or triumphant crossings-out: an address-book is a permanent masterpiece, to be superseded perhaps, in a year or two's time, but never, if you have any proper feeling, thrown away."

Well, I must away I have a book to add to my read book list!


  1. I must read this book! I belong to that third class of list-makers, I'm afraid. I think making lists sometimes encourages the production of serotonin in my brain. I can spend more time making lists of things to get done than I do getting things done!

  2. What a fun post, and how nice that I have this book waiting for me on the shelf! Loved Mrs Miniver (also 'Lord of all Hopefulnes') and my friend Ruth kindly gave me Try Anything Twice - though I haven't got as far as opening it and discovering that it was essays!

    I love making lists, as long as they're not to-do lists... my favourite being the lists of books read. Sometimes I'll plough through a book I'm not enjoying, just to be able to add it to the list!