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An Appetite for Life: The Education of a Young Diarist, 1924-1927 [Paperback]

Charles Ritchie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 15 2001
Charles Ritchie’s first volume of diaries, The Siren Years, created a sensation when it was published in 1974. Besides winning the Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction, it was hailed by reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. An Appetite for Life, his second volume, first published in 1977, deals with his youth in Halifax and his career at Oxford – the years when Charles Ritchie turned from a callow, blundering youth into a callow, blundering young man.

As these diaries show, Charles Ritchie had a sharp eye, a keen ear, a highly developed sense of the absurd, and – despite his unhappy knack of landing ?at on his face – a thorough “appetite for life.”

This is not only a hilariously funny book, but it presents a vivid picture of two worlds – Halifax and Oxford in the mid-twenties – that are now long gone. It also introduces us to an astonishing range of characters, but the most astonishing of all is the young Charles Ritchie himself.

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Don't be fooled by the dry, unpromising subtitle or the political background of its diplomat author. An Appetite for Life is filled with fluid, graceful writing and delicious bons mots. When the volume opens, a discouraged 18-year-old Ritchie decides not to pursue a writing life because of what he sees as an unsuccessful attempt at a short story. But the young author's astute, observant diaries make up for what the world of fiction may have lost. Appetite covers Ritchie's final years at home in Halifax and his first year's schooling in Oxford as he grows from awkward adolescent to awkward young man in a recognizable yet strange landscape. The diaries are peopled with characters and settings out of Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ritchie is the eloquent Everyman trying to make sense of the mores and manners of the times. His fumblings with the opposite sex are endearing, as are his lack of pretense and joy in the idiosyncrasies of those around him, including family members, fellow students, thespians (he dabbles in the theatre at one point), and various young women of his acquaintance. Most of all, though, there are the fine, rich sentences, shot through with understated humour: "Then the door flew open and a troupe of aesthetes came willowing in," he writes of an evening at a pub. In other passages we are reminded this is very much a book about a young man's coming of age. For instance, reflecting on his sudden lack of interest in a heretofore-admired friend, Ritchie sounds betrayed when he opines "how quickly one loses one's illusions about people." Overall the diary entries have a light, non-judgmental tone that makes the book a joy to read. And it leaves us wanting to know more about the uncertain, directionless young man who grew up to become Canada's ambassador to the United States during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. --Shawn Conner

Review

“The lens of Ritchie’s sensibility, in all his writing, is itself so peculiarly and sharply focussed, his use of language so beautiful and so lucid, that the diaries and memoirs reshape and reorder experience and as a result transform into literature the story of his own life.”
— Jane Urquhart, Brick magazine

“We can only be left with the conclusion that, in Ritchie, Canada has found its very own Pepys.”
Hamilton Spectator

“He challenges comparison with the best diarists in the language. Indeed I can think of none who excel him in grace of language and in fecundity of wit.”
–Claude Bissell

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommend July 16 2001
Format:Paperback
Charles Ritchie's An Appetite for Life is a treat. The book is in diary form from 1924-27, beginning in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The book is an honest, refreshing story of a young man's torments and appeals. The second part of the book is when the author himself goes to Oxford, England.
The book is fascinating. Mr. Ritchie paints a picture that the discerning reader will appreciate. Here is an excerpt of his log for May 29, 1924 where he is reflecting a conversation with Tony, a gentleman from England:
"He is much more experienced that I am. Of course he is four years older. He has seen a lot more of the world. Some of the things that he told me about sexual practices between men and women and also between men and men were a complete revelation to me. I never could have imagined them."
I highly recommend this wonderful book.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommend July 16 2001
By Thomas Ligotti Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Charles Ritchie's An Appetite for Life is a treat. The book is in diary form from 1924-27, beginning in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The book is an honest, refreshing story of a young man's torments and appeals. The second part of the book is when the author himself goes to Oxford, England.
The book is fascinating. Mr. Ritchie paints a picture that the discerning reader will appreciate. Here is an excerpt of his log for May 29, 1924 where he is reflecting a conversation with Tony, a gentleman from England:
"He is much more experienced that I am. Of course he is four years older. He has seen a lot more of the world. Some of the things that he told me about sexual practices between men and women and also between men and men were a complete revelation to me. I never could have imagined them."
I highly recommend this wonderful book.
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