What the Editors Are Reading

In my youth I must have read nearly every word H.L. Mencken wrote—The American Language excepted, though I did dip into it from time to time before setting the book aside as being dry as the Sahara.  A couple of weeks ago I ran into almost the entire set (the successive Supplements and Editions) at a local book shop, bought them on the spot at bargain price, and took another look.  In fact, The American Language—which describes how American English developed from the King’s English—is “absolutely fascinating,” as Edmund Wilson said: “Mencken . . . has been writing a part of our social history, and he has brought to it . . . his humor, his excellent writing, his special relish, at once acrid and genial, for the flavor of American life.”

A week or two before, I had discovered at the same shop a volume that describes itself as the “definitive edition” of Rudyard Kipling’s Verse (Hodder & Stoughton).  There are some wonderful things in it, extremely various, including the sort of poetry one does not associate with the author of “Recessional” and “Gunga Din.”  Certainly, I had forgot what a marvelously descriptive poet he is, how evocative, physical, and exciting (and very male).  He is particularly good (I, as a lover of ships and the sea, discovered) at describing shipboard experience—the action of the ship in heavy weather,...

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