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Henry Green: “I forget everything I read.”

I love the brutal honesty in Henry Green’s answer to this Paris Review interviewer’s question.

INTERVIEWER

No one, it seems, has been able to satisfactorily relate your work to any source of influence. I recall that Mr. Pritchett has tried to place it in the tradition of Sterne, Carroll, Firbank, and Virginia Woolf—whereas Mr. Toynbee wished to relate it to Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, and Henry Miller. Now, are there styles or works that you feel have influenced yours?

GREEN

I really don’t know. As far as I’m consciously aware, I forget everything I read at once, including my own stuff.

How refreshing. Here I thought I was the only reader with a bad memory.

It reminds me of when you see a young up-and-coming band, and they make sure to list all the classic bands that influenced them—you know, Zeppelin, The Stones, The Who, The Beatles, and so on—in their official bios.

And, then, there’s the guy who’s like: “Yeah, I guess I like those bands, but I’m not even sure what songs they sing.” The outrage! Surely he’s been heavily influenced by Pete Townsend’s riffs and Mick Jagger’s vocals, right?

Well, maybe not.

And, in the case of Henry Green, he pretty much just says, “Yeah, I forget stuff after I read it, and I don’t even know what I wrote about this morning.”

Again, that’s refreshing. The man reads, and the man writes.

And then there’s this little gem from the interview as well:

INTERVIEWER

I’ve heard it remarked that your work is “too sophisticated” for American readers, in that it offers no scenes of violence—and “too subtle,” in that its message is somewhat veiled. What do you say?

GREEN

Unlike the wilds of Texas, there is very little violence over here.  A bit of child killing, of course, but no straight shootin’. After fifty, one ceases to digest; as someone once said: “I just ferment my food now.” Most of us walk crabwise to meals and everything else. The oblique approach in middle age is the safest thing. The unusual at this period is to get anywhere at all.

INTERVIEWER
And how about “subtle”?

GREEN
I don’t follow. Suttee, as I understand it, is the suicide—now forbidden—of a Hindu wife on her husband’s flaming pyre. I don’t want my wife to do that when my time comes—and with great respect, as I know her, she won’t . . .

INTERVIEWER
I’m sorry, you misheard me; I said, “subtle”—that the message was too subtle.

GREEN
Oh, subtle. How dull!

That’s great!

I would love to hear the audio of that.

To be honest, I’m not too high on Loving, but how can you not love Henry Green?

Full Paris Review interview here.

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Maybe Henry Green would have benefited from having a literary blog 🙂 http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/why-i-spoil-books/

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    October 3, 2013
    • Ah, thanks for posting this Joanna. I was thinking about how Robert’s blog today definitely connects to the conversation we are having on mine. 🙂

      Like

      October 3, 2013
  2. Love him too..

    Like

    October 3, 2013
  3. Rosie Baillie #

    A refreshing interview! I thought I was the only one, if I don’t review a book straight away I’ve forgotten it in a couple of days.

    Like

    October 3, 2013
    • I know, me too! I hear other people remember the first lines of books and names of characters etc etc and I felt that there was something wrong with me. Is reading so many books wasted on me?! Robert, that’s a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

      October 4, 2013
      • Rosie Baillie #

        Yes one of my best friends can do that and she remembers all the tiny little details and I’m left wondering whether I actually read the book in the first place or whether there was pages missing.

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        October 4, 2013
        • Story of my life!

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          October 4, 2013
        • mmm I’m wondering whether this is an acquired skilled or a natural talent….

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          October 4, 2013
  4. So I’m not the only avid reader who forgets what they read then! It can be a little embarrassing at times, such as the time I turned up at my book group and a friend said “So what have you been reading recently?” My mind went blank and I couldn’t remember the three or four books I had read from the previous month. I read a lot but I forget a lot, unless it is a truly exceptional book. Keeping a book diary and writing titles and dates down helps me to keep track of what I read.

    Like

    October 3, 2013
  5. P.S. That interview is great! I love Green’s response when the interviewer asks “And how about ‘subtle'”. 😀

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    October 3, 2013
    • Yes! That was my favorite part. Totally random.

      Like

      October 4, 2013
  6. I like that this guy ferments his food. Good for him.

    Like

    October 3, 2013
  7. Reblogged this on KMSRAJ51-Always Positive Thinker.

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    October 3, 2013
  8. This makes me so happy, cause I totally feel the same lol

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    October 3, 2013
  9. I keep a list of what I have read. It helps to remember the good ones. The trash is always easily forgotten.

    Like

    October 3, 2013
  10. My beloved godmother passed away recently at the age of 88 years. She was the most well-read person I have ever known. We discussed “forgetting books” before she died. She too kept a list of the great reads. The rest just weren’t memorable enough for her to waste brain capacity on them. I really miss sharing “good reads” with her!

    Like

    October 3, 2013
    • Interesting anecdote, Cate! She sounds like a unique person too.

      Regards, CC

      Like

      November 3, 2013
  11. Remembering everything isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! I recall at a party not long back, I mentioned seeing this one particular girl at grocery store buying a box of cap’n crunch some months prior… In short, I became known as the crazed stalker! Keeping a list can help and is good for reference in case you want to reread anything of note after a while. 🙂

    Like

    October 3, 2013
  12. Reblogged this on marja wouters.

    Like

    October 4, 2013
  13. Thanks, I’m not alone…Are the Henry green’s novels translated in french? I don’t find

    Like

    October 4, 2013
  14. Reblogged this on Adithya Entertainment.

    Like

    October 8, 2013
  15. Yes, Robert, Henry Green’s approach to writing was unique. I had never heard of him until I came across a book of his in a Harvard book shop a few years ago—his ‘Uncollected Writings: ‘Surviving’, introduced by John Updike. One of the distinctive marks about his work is its versatility—which can, at times, be a contributing factor in a writer’s failure to get the deserved recognition among the reading public at large. His stories, his short, unpublished play, ‘Journey Out of Spain’, his outstanding journalism—and his wonderful pieces on the craft of putting pen to paper is a real pleasure! His humour should not go unnoticed either!

    Regards, CC Cairns

    Like

    November 3, 2013

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