18 04 2011
books about books
I’m reading Nelson Algren’s “Notes from a Sea Diary: Hemingway all the way,” and came across this brilliant nugget in the story entitled, “July 14th Raft of a Summer Night.” Algren was wailing away at editors, publishers and critics regarding so many classic books being out of print, yet so many of those same classic’s critiques were stocked on shelves in volumes. Keep in mind this was written in 1959, a good 35-40 years before the MFA zombies permanently slimed American Letters. But Algren’s complaint echoes my own, now 63 years later and let’s me know that the same same minded folks have been corralling how we think and write for a long, long time.
And the word to the Pfc instructor, wherever faculty brass and their wives compete for captaincies, is publish, publish, publish. Riding an endless belt of useless information, he becomes confident that the footnote is the road to fame and fortune. The present imbalance of books about writing, to those written from direct experience, is sufficient evidence of this. And sends throngs of young people to believing that literature derives from other books rather than life.
They are duped by a presumption: that the truths which can sustain them can be handed down by educators, critics, analysts, anthologists and professional distributors of safe precepts: all those who, like Greener losing his sense of life under the hood of a secondhand Ford, lose theirs in a wolrd where terminology emablms alike the living with the dead. The man whose passion attained its peak in a course in cost accounting now emerges as a shaper of American letters.
Same as it ever was.
Note that this book too is out of print. I’ve linked to Amazon as the best place to find a used copy.