Saturday, March 20, 2010

JACK KEROUAC, ANNIE DILLARD, ALLEN GINSBERG and Jake Silverstein: what comes in the mail

One day this week two books arrive in the mail: from the height to the murky other region of the book world.

JACK KEROUAC AND ALLEN GINSBERG: THE LETTERS which is to be published by Penguin in July.

NOTHING AND THEN IT DID by Jake Silverstein now published by WW. Norton.

Of course any season that has a book of letters by Jack Kerouac and in particular when those letters are from the beginning of his literary career is a blessed time.

Finally, the world well knows—even if all the usual stupid academics have not figure it out: ON THE ROAD is one of the very very few novels published in the United States after World War Two that is actually a great world novel in the same way that Celine’s JOURNEY TO THE END OF NIGHT and why not: Turgenev’s FIRST LOVE.

The biggest mis-understanding about Kerouac is that he was some sort of poorly read hick who wrote a novel about guys having fun. The truth is Kerouac even at 22 was saturated with literature, extremely well read and from the first letter (1944) in the collection in which Ginsberg reports on seeing JK’s girl friend bringing him while in jail a copy of Gogol’s DEAD SOULS that he requested to the second letter in which Kerouac writes, “I prefer the new vision in terms of art---I believe, I smugly cling to the belief that art is the potential ultimate out of humankind materials of art, I tell myself, the new vision springs. Look at FINNEGANS WAKE and ULYSSES and THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN. Lord only knows the truth! Lord only can tell! “

Garden variety alcoholism will kill Kerouac at 47. Ginsberg will drag out his own life until 71--- after the writing of the still memorable HOWL and KADDISH--- as a disagreeable aggressive pederast who preyed upon the confused and vulnerable. I will type up one of these days the interview I did with Ginsberg and which was published in The Guardian in London some years before his death.

And the murk

NOTHING HAPPENED AND THAN IT DID by Jake Silverstein is as the subtitle has it “A chronicle in fact and fiction” set in the far west of Texas and Mexico. By the fourth and fifth line of the preface: “long lonesome highways and quiet main streets” have appeared. It is a place where, “thoughts twist like timbers.” < how is that possible?> And we are told people, “speak of its unspoiled beauty.” Though we will be given some sort of history, “Spanish conquistadors clanked across this land, looking for gold to pillage and Indians to baptize or slay.”

I did read on a bit more but the will was not really there because after hearing about vast ranches in West Texas with few cattle there is this sentence: “The human population throughout the region is as sparse as that of the bovine.”

I closed the book and noted all the blurbs by my I assume betters: Douglas Brinkley, Sherman Alexie, Antonya Nelson, Tony Girardina and my favorite and old friend Annie Dillard.

I decided that possibly since they blurb so many books, Brinkley, Alexie and Nelson --- maybe mixed up books as it so often happens…

I do not know Tony Giradina but the people at Norton write that he is the author of WHITE GUYS but what can you say about someone who can type: “a gorgeous, hilarious romp of a book?”

But about Annie Dillard?

I have known Annie since 1969 at Hollins College. She heard me tell a story about my father and seagulls and she quoted it later in PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK.

When I got around to publishing a book in which I would quote myself I asked Annie for a blurb she replied that I should go ahead and write my own blurb for the book but not to compare myself to Shakespeare. I should assign her name to those words and then she would read my book when she had time and with pleasure. I didn’t do as she suggested and maybe I should have.

On the press release Mr. Silverstein has Annie Dillard comparing his work to Dickens, Tolstoy, Gorki. Laxness and Chen Congwen… but he too did not compare his work to Shakespeare so I guess he was just following her suggestion though the Chinese guy… well, the Asian market is expanding…

Mr Silversetin is the editor of THE TEXAS MONTHLY and has time to be a contributing editor to HARPER’S magazine but since he writes with such facility in the English language he should also become a food writer for The New York Times as Sherman Alexie writes about NOTHING HAPPENED AND THEN IT DID: “It’s a eulogy for dead American towns, dead American ideas and dead American jobs… You’ll devour it.”

I am sure Mr. Silverstein will not turn down a large pile of dead American dollars for his labors as Mr. Alexie is also a recipient of big piles of dead American dollars for his own labors in the field of dead American ideas and dead American jobs.