Books: Even As We Speak — Catching Up: Introduction |
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Catching Up : Introduction

Like the short script for the BBC television programme about Hamlet reproduced in the previous section, the first two of these three articles hail from a time frame rather earlier than the one nominally set for this collection. But I am not putting them in just because I overlooked them last time. They were never overlooked: they were left out for a reason. The piece about photography included remarks about Janet Malcolm which a mutual friend told me had caused offence. If she had been offended, I didn’t want to offend her again: but in the interim Malcolm (as an American magazine would refer to her) has proved herself tough enough to bear other people’s embarrassment, so perhaps it’s time for me to try proving that I am tough enough to bear hers. The piece on the House of Lords I left out before because I thought it made me sound servile to British institutions. By now I am convinced that any British institution offering a check or a balance to government power should be defended, whatever the risk to one’s reputation. Besides, there are phrases in the piece that still strike me as the best way I could make that particular point. I like to think that true of any piece I write, of whatever brevity, even that of a caption. Over the years I have left a good proportion of my journalism uncollected, but I never wrote any of it with evanescence in mind: I abandoned a piece because of what it lacked in quality, not because of what its genre lacked in dignity. By other writers, books of collected casual pieces are the books I like best: in other words, I like the kind of writer who gets his gift into anything, and who, therefore, can never write anything so trivial that it does not bear reprinting. My own critics are fond of calling me the kind of egotist who would publish his laundry lists if he could get away with it. I have never found that gibe to have much force, because there are so many writers whose laundry lists I would like to read. The third piece, which I did overlook twenty-five years ago, is about a man who, as a matter of course, reprinted his every written utterance, and thank God he did. Beachcomber’s books were like this one, at least in kind; so there can be nothing wrong with the kind, whatever might be lacking in the execution.