My reading life began at 41 Furman Lane, Patchogue, NY with three authors, Erich Maria Remarque, Thomas Wolfe and Sherwood Anderson. This was before high school ended in 1962. I did not read or I choose to think I did not read in high school. Fortunately I was not required to write essays or even do what is now called research papers. We were prepared for the Regents Exams, a form of state exams and I did rather well on them but even there we were not required, at least back then to write extended essays. I did well enough to be offered a Regent’s scholarship which I did not use as I went away to Beloit College because that college was a thousand miles from Patchogue.
No books were required to be read at Patchogue High School or I have put them firmly out of mind. There were text books and I remember only two authors from that time T. S. Eliot and Thomas Hardy, though I could not be said to have read them. Shakespeare was certainly presented but it seemed that we watched film strips about the plays. In no way am I complaining about any of this as my “education” at Patchogue High School did not interfere with my reading life.
My reason for writing these sentences is the Library of America finally publishing a volume devoted to Sherwood Anderson and it is focused on his short stories. It is edited by a tenured professor of creative writing, but that need not concern us.
Winesburg Ohio is contained in this volume and that is the book of Sherwood Anderson’s that I read. I imagine like many readers back then and sadly that is the reality when it comes to Anderson, back then, as the experiences he writes about have been shoved to the side in the multi-ethnicization of American writing, which has led to an incredible provincializing of the United States, a turning inward to the warring kingdoms of double-barreled ethnic writings so that every anthology that might have some use in the schools of the United States must be balanced out along the ethnic and racial preoccupations of the educational elite so that we have Dominican-American, Mexican-America, Puerto Rican-American, Cuban-American, Chinese-American, Korean-American, Native American, Afro -American, not to leave out Vietnamese-American and and on and and (probably leaving out--- ah, I did the sexual and gender categories that are now also required while I well know that much of this began with the rise of Jewish American and then Irish American and then Italian American… the result has been a closing off of our world from books from other countries and one of those countries might be the world represented by Sherwood Anderson.
We have forgotten that there are only writers: good writers and bad writers, great books and lousy books.
Sherwood Anderson’s whole life was dedicated to the word and the word made flesh in what used to be called small town America… it was before Faulkner… the first real step away from New England…
Readers should find SAMUEL BECKETT’S WAKE AND OTHER UNCOLLECTED PROSE by Edward Dalhberg (Dalkey Archive Press,1989) and there find his essay “Old Masters”, originally published in the New York Times of all places when one thinks of what has happened to the NYTimes! One of those old masters was Sherwood Anderson and; “the most prodigious mishap of the young American writer is that he has no Master, or an elder of letters to guide him; and so be relies wholly upon himself, a very unrealistic teacher. I was lucky; I knew Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson” (for comparison think of the poor saps today who look to Paul Auster or Jonathan Franzen)
FROM THE ESSAY: If a book is not physical, the words are as empty as gourds and dry as the shards in the Mount Sinai Desert we hear of in the Book of Job.
OR: I cannot repeat too often, choose a seer! Never mind being the great original. If you’ve got a dram of talent and are influenced by Erasmus, Gustave Flaubert or Charles Baudelaire you’ll still be yourself, without them you are likely to amount to nothing as an author.”
OR: Every book is a mistake, just as life is or mine is”
OR: I remember any number of scullion reviewers who denounced Sherwood Anderson for being confused. Anybody who supposes he has a clear brain has a vacant one. If the author was not obscure to himself, a glut and flux of nebulous sensations, what urgent necessity would he have to make a clear lucid book?”
OR: A vile book that exacts some sort of feeling from us is a cony-catcher, and no one cares to be fooled by a friend, a drama or a woman… Let me say once more everybody is a mistake and I am an imperial one.
OR: Who goes to a book to discover what he already knows?
AND THEN THE SHIFT from another essay: How Greek or Roman is the American? We are nobody until we recognize Odysseus, Protesilaus or Aeneas in our selves. America is Trojan, Greek, Aztec, Mayan, and Indian. The ghosts in our civilization are being resurrected so that we can see that the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians and our savannahs are corporeal gods.
The books of stories included in the Library of America ANDERSON : Winesburg, Ohio, The Triumph of the Egg, Horses and Men, Death in the Woods
THE POST SCIPTUM: in a recent note to Denis Donoghue “I was never smart enough to read E.M. Forster or for that matter Thomas Hardy and John Hawkes... my reading began on the ferry going from Glasgow to Dublin September 1964 trying to read FROM AN ABANDONED WORK by Samuel Beckett... before that I had only read books by Erich Maria Remarque, Thomas Wolfe and Sherwood Anderson and James Thomson BV... this is... outside of what was required... so very unlike yourself.
THE POST POST SCRIPTUM: Anderson invents reality it might be said or… I was told Anderson was the single most requested author for inclusion in the Library of America… so that is the good news, the sad news, it has taken so long…