I’ve been neglecting this page lately. Other projects have been keeping me busy, and there’s also the fact that I haven’t been reading much lately. But I had dinner the other night with Dan Wakefield, whom I think of as an old friend I was meeting for the first time. We’ve had no end of friends in common, both lived in the Village in the 50s, are familiar with and fond of each other’s work, but had no contact until Facebook brought us together. A few weeks ago I reread a favorite book, Starting Over, and found I liked it every bit as much as I did in 1974. And he came town, and we had dinner, and discovered a mutual delight in the work of W. Somerset Maugham.

maughamSomerset Maugham, Willie to his friends, was hugely successful during his long lifetime (1874-1965) and produced a great number of short stories, novels, and plays. His semi-autobiographical novel, Of Human Bondage, is often considered his most important work, but when I tried to reread it a few years ago I found it slow going. His huge body of work includes some lesser efforts, but everything he wrote was so accessible and well-crafted that one can’t go too far wrong. Dan and I shared our enthusiasm for The Razor’s Edge (about a spiritual quest) and The Moon and Sixpence (inspired by Gauguin). I spoke admiringly of Cakes and Ale (which is sort of about Hugh Walpole) and The Narrow Corner (which made me sorry I never smoked opium). I could have mentioned Ashenden, too, a classic espionage story based on Maugham’s own career as a British agent during the First World War.

Maugham’s reputation has suffered, perhaps because he’s so easy to read; he makes it look easy. He wrote astutely about writing, too, in The Summing Up and A Writer’s Notebook.

Dan had good things to say about The Painted Veil, one I’d somehow missed. It’s on my Kindle now.