The Summing Up, II

It’s an even shorter chapter than the first one. I started reading The Summing Up as an e-book but couldn’t do it. Maugham doesn’t belong on a screen to be viewed, he belongs in the hand being read. You can’t properly look up from an e-book and laugh out loud, trying to imagine how a general reader in 1938 was going to respond to this sentence: “The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends that you know famous men proves only that you are yourself of small account.” First, yes, too much “that.” Second, Maugham on name-dropping. Does it get any better? It does, because he goes on. The Summing Up is an erudite rant against the obnoxiousness of being too highbrow. The chapter is two paragraphs. The second paragraph gets into why Maugham concerns himself with his fellow man—“as material that might be useful to me as a writer,” which sounds more cynical than Maugham seems to mean. He concludes the chapter talking about the common man being far better fodder for fiction than the elite. Again, he’s giving the reader every chance to give up on the book. It’s kind of awesome. Except all the “that” usage; it’s not driving me nuts, but it is making the quotes less effective. For example, doesn’t, “The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your friends you know famous men prove only you are yourself of small account,” just sound better? Don’t answer, of course it does.

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