Monday, January 28, 2008

Old Friends

1. Time of the week to consider a Golden Oldie for the review column, a process that generally begins a few minutes after I have edited, proofed, and e-mailed the current week's essay, and which often arrives between going to bed that night and awakening the following morning.

2. It's taken a bit longer this time, but it has come. America's neglected story teller. Stephen Crane.

3. Yes, yes, to The Red Badge of Courage, which could make an excellent frame for a more modern narrative of inner conflict, say cancer or unconventional sexual preference, or even preference for the life vector of an artist.

4. It has just come to me that I do not like the word artist, perhaps because of what has been made of it, perhaps because of my own contributions in giving it a judgmental meaning that is not in its lineage. I don't even like it when it is applied to Mary Cassat or Velasquez or El Greco, even less when they and those like them are referred to as fine-art painters.

5. My own favorites of Crane are short stories, Nine White Mice and The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky. Each is a plausible drama, each with characters who have the interesting goals of characters who have given parts of themselves over to introspection, which is to say I think Crane's understanding of human psychology and diversity is excellent.

6. Which leads me to wonder, is there a Viking Portable Crane? I have two Viking Portables, one of Chaucer the other of Ring Lardner (who makes another good candidate for a Golden Oldie): let's look at the series roster. No go in Lardner. Hot dog! Bingo in Chaucer, which means a quick look at Amazon dot com.

7. As a younger person I much valued the Viking Portable editions, inexpensive entry into the landscapes of so many writers I have come to treasure. At one point, my entire "library" was Viking Portables, Modern Libraries, and Everyman editions. As a younger person still, my treasured library was of Big Little Books, observations that send warm recollections churning through me.

8. At the moment I sit before a Queen Anne-style secretary, one of many splendid gifts passed along to me by my late mother. Directly atop the secretary is a three-tiered shelf, early American motel or some such, repository of books that seem most likely to be used on some kid of regular basis, books such as The Chicago Manual of Style, a few thesauri and a number of recently read fiction and things I am likely to shove into my brief case at the slightest fear that I am venturing off to class with nothing to say and thus need something to refer to. Top shelf is a clutch of art and photography books. I am pleased to discover that among such things as Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel and Francine Prose's estimable How to Read Like a Writer and Susan Rabiner's How to Think Like Your Editor are indeed a number of Modern Library volumes, at least two Everyman volumes, and six Big Little Books. You can take the boy out of the library but you cannot take the library out of the boy. By golly, there's even a paperback reprint of a James M. Cain noir, Serenade.

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