Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Year In, Year Out


There are two authors whom I often talk about and get little response. Not on here, specifically, but in all the bookish circles (both internet and face-to-face). They are Virginia Woolf and AA Milne. I think that's to do with preconceptions: Woolf is "that difficult feminist writer who killed herself" and Milne just wrote that children's book/Disney film. Neither are true, of course, and it would be a shame to leave them unexamined. Not that I can blame anyone - though The Carbon Copy never tires of exhorting me to read Lord of the Rings, my preconceptions (aided by the film) persist, and I resist and desist and subsist and all other sorts of similar words.

But today we shall turn our attention to Milne. I may well repeat bits of
a letter I recently wrote to my friend Barbara-from-Ludlow, but I'm sure she'll forgive me for that. I've just finished a re-read of Year In, Year Out which, according to my notebook, I first read in early 2001, in the brief period before I kept more accurate records that year. It was Milne's last book, published in 1952 (Milne died in January 1956) and Our Vicar will be pleased to know it is non-fiction. How to describe this book? It is a miscellany of musings, some whimsical, some political, some incidental. The sorts of things which couldn't really be developed into anything more than a thought or an anecdote, and are thus collected together, divided fairly arbitrarily into twelve months. He points out how frequently trains would have to run in The Importance of Being Earnest; he also discusses the history of his pacifism. He covers The Art of Saying Thank You ('The schoolboy's "Oo, I say, thanks frightfully" sets the standard. It is difficult to better this, though you may throw in an awed "Coo!" if you feel that it comes naturally to you'); he berates the food subsidies and supertax. My favourite sections are anecdotes concerning his earlier work - never Pooh et al, but his plays or his poetry.

It is improbable that such a book could ever be published now; it is indeed improbable it would have been published then, had it not been
for the debt Methuen felt they owed Milne. Pooh had raised them rather a lot of money, and they felt prepared to indulge the whims of an aging author. That's what lends Year In, Year Out its pathos - though often cheery and witty, it is also unconsciously nostalgic, not in the sense of thinking in the past, but in thinking the present can be turned into the past. His best days, authorially and in every other way, have happened - and Milne perseveres with his wonderful, inimitable, light-but-serious tone.

Year In, Year Out probably isn't the best place to start reading non-children's Milne, but I encourage you to give something a whirl. He did it all - plays,
poetry, sketches, essays, detective novel, literary fiction, autobiography, non-fiction work on pacifism. Something for everyone.

Something special about Year In, Year Out, though, is that it is the last collaborative work of A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard - in fact, Pooh and the gang appear (with some assorted others) in the little illustrations for January and December. Somehow that seems a fitting, and wonderful, culmination of Milne's writing career.

8 comments:

  1. That book probably couldn't be published today as a book, but that's only because there are more appropriate methods of getting it out. Consider it for a moment. Small anecdotes? Undeveloped essays? Arranged chronologically? Milne basically invented the blog...

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  2. Year in Year out sounds good. I once read a book by A.A's son Christopher, the one for whom Pooh was written. I have totally forgotten the title but remember enjoying it enormously. Christopher owned a book shop in Devon, I find that charming. All this is rather a ramble, but thank you for reminding me about it all. I must hunt down Christopher again. C.B

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  3. Ah, Carole, that must be from his wonderful autobiographical trilogy - The Path Through The Trees dealt with his bookshop, and his time as a soldier (and is 2nd of the 3). The Enchanted Places was the first; his childhood. The Hollow on the Hill was third, and is about his marriage and musings about nature. The Path Through The Trees was my favourite, and might well appear in the 50 Books... before long - let me know if you've re-read it, and I can cite your opinion!

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  4. I share your enthusiasm for Woolf and bought The Sunny Side: short stories and poems for proper grown-ups By A.A Milne on the strength of your recommendations. I'll let you know what I think when I get around to reading it.

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  5. The Milne book sounds just like my preferred sort of reading - must seek it out.

    This reminds me that the other day I pulled out a book that was slipped down behind a stack of other books - _The Pooh Sketchbooks_ (Dutton, 1984) by EH Shepard and AA Milne, 96 pages of illustr., working drawings (1924-28), with captions. Shepard used Christopher's toys and the Sussex countryside in the drawings.

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  6. Simon, thank you...yes, "The Path Through The Trees'. That was the book I loved, in fact I will go onto Amazon right now and see if they can oblige me with another copy, I think the first one walked.
    By the way, how did your January resolution of no book buying go? If you posted on it I must have missed it, was it agony? C.B.

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  7. Yes, I just ordered a copy £2.50 from BonBon Books, can't be bad. I look forward to a re-read, I see it was published in 1983.....before you were born!! I'm delighted, thank you for naming it for me. C.B.

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  8. I had no idea AA Milne wrote anything other than Pooh and rhymes for small children. I'm so glad you've enlightened me, and I'm going to look for some of his fiction!

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