Cover image for Portable people
Portable people
West, Paul, 1930-2015.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Latham, NY : British American Pub., [1990]
Physical Description:
x, 346 pages : portraits ; 17 cm
General Note:
"Paris review editions"--Spine.
Subject Term:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6073.E766 P67 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order


Author Notes

Paul West was born in Eckington, Derbyshire, England on February 23, 1930. He received a degree in English with first-class honors at the University of Birmingham and a master's degree from Columbia University. He did his compulsory military service with the Royal Air Force and then took a teaching post in English literature at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada. He began teaching at Pennsylvania State University in 1963 and retired from there in 1995.

He wrote numerous novels including Alley Jaggers, Bela Lugosi's White Christmas, Tenement of Clay, The Rat Man of Paris, Terrestrials, Lord Byron's Doctor, Sporting with Amaryllis, The Women of Whitechapel and Jack the Ripper, Love's Mansion, Red in Tooth and Claw, The Ice Lens, and The Invisible Riviera. He also wrote several memoirs including Words for a Deaf Daughter, Out of My Depths: A Swimmer in the Universe, A Stroke of Genius: Illness and Self-Discovery, My Mother's Music, My Father's War, The Shadow Factory, and Oxford Days. He died from pneumonia on October 18, 2015 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The last of the 85 figures the erudite Paul West sketches is himself, or rather his name, as drawn "in a glossy magazine" floating around a "pyramid of fiction [writers] . . . unattached to group or clique." Portable People upholds this exceptionality as it mixes, in no apparent order, profiles of all sorts of artists (e.g., Pepys, Rodin, Chaliapin), perpetrators of unsolved murders, fascists, fictional persons (e.g., Captain Ahab), and others. West responds to each uniquely, often writing first person in the subject's imagined voice. The accompanying portrait drawings by Joe Servello are equally varied. (The marriage of author and illustrator was made in heaven.) Who exactly the audience for the book may be--other than fans of West--is a puzzle, but anyone with a taste for the mysterious particularity of life who happens on to it will become a fan of his, albeit a perplexed one, instantly. ~--Roland Wulbert

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this compendium of short, intimate portraits of well-known figures in the arts, science, politics and sports, West ( Lord Byron's Doctor ) uses his immense knowledge of his subjects to paint pictures that are extraordinarily imaginative, yet strangely true. Many of these sketches are told in the first person, as if West has elicited a confession or final statement from these overachievers. Virginia Woolf, about to kill herself in the River Ouse, is a case in point: ``I am going to flush myself away, an Ophelia of the middle class. Suttee voce.'' There's also George Gershwin deriving inspiration from transportation: ``So I gotta take the train, see, I heard the rhythm of the rails--the word said riddem --and it is all there anyway, that long, dizzy ascent on the clarinet included.'' Although many of these pieces are fascinating for the little-known tidbits they impart and for the considerable craft of West's wordplay, some assume too much about their subjects, coming off as pretentious (``Beckett in the Fields Above Avignon'') or silly (``Helen Keller Holding Mark Twain''). Others profiled include Emily Bronte, Josef Goebbels, Chris Evert and the Shah of Iran. The sketches appeared previously in the Paris Review , Harper's , the Washington Post and the New York Times , among other publications. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

West ( The Rat Man of Paris , Doubleday, 1986; Lord Byron's Doctor , LJ 9/1/89) has written 84 brief portraits in prose, and one in verse. (The longest is no more than a few short pages.) The subjects range from Pepys, Carlyle's mother, and Paganini through E.J. Bellocq, Goebbels, and Churchill to Nabokov, Zazie, Empson, the Shah of Iran, Djuna Barnes, Messaiaen, and a final self-portrait. Included are writers and artists, athletes, politicians, Nazis, scientists, and various others, some rather bizarre, with musicians and fliers rather more prominent than one might expect. This is a very personal gallery of dramatic monologs and symbolic or evocative descriptions, viewed from an oblique perspective that is always tantalizing and sometimes illuminating. Illustrations by Joe Servello.-- Richard Kucz kowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.