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This report is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Paying Attention Lawrence Sail

It may be just a matter of temperament or generation, but I remember being much more likely to pay attention, when a student, to casual recommendations of books than to imperative injunctions. 'You might enjoy' was much more alluring than 'You must read', or a dauntingly long list of required reading - a bit like being given a hot racing tip in a low aside. It also seemed in keeping with the languid manner of some university dons and lecturers. The best nuggets were to be conveyed in the kind of soft-voiced parenthesis which, though it could sound like 'take it or leave it', might even have been a cunning way of outflanking the undergraduate need for definition by defiance. Anyway, this was how I came to read Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction, and so to re-read it more than once. First published in 1921, the book had reached its fifteenth reprint by the time I caught up with it in 1962. What interested me were not so much Lubbock's comments on particular works as what he has to say about books and reading in general:

As quickly as we read it [the book], it melts and shifts in the memory; even at the moment when the last page is turned, a great part of the book, its finer detail, is already vague and doubtful. A little later, after a few days or months, how much is really left of it?1

'To glance at ...

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