January 21, 2007

Twelve American Writers
Edited by William M. Gibson and George Arms
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
A Norton Critical Edition edited by Charles E. Modlin and Ray Lewis White

A Textbook Case – Reading old and current textbooks when you’re not enrolled in any class feels a bit like you’re getting away with something. You only have to read the portions you want and not those the professor mandates. You can do it all on your own time, within your own schedule. And you don’t have to bother listening to anyone else’s claptrap, no matter how informed or uninformed the claptrap might be. Maybe I’m just growing old and cranky. Right or wrong (and, surely, it’s wrong), I’ve always thought of Sherwood Anderson as old and cranky. The fact that I’ve always appreciated him the more for it is certainly also telling. But after re-reading pieces of Winesburg and discovering an old William Faulkner essay on his one-time mentor, I feel like I’m just getting to know Sherwood Anderson. “Twelve American Writers” features a 1953 Atlantic Monthly essay by Faulkner, which stays with me now weeks later. In the “appreciation,” Faulkner describes his days with Sherwood Anderson in New Orleans, the debt he and Ernest Hemingway owe Anderson, and the pain they inflicted on the older man; Hemingway, in The Torrents of Spring, and Faulkner himself via a booklet titled, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, in which Faulkner admits attempting to make Anderson’s style look ridiculous. The essay acknowledges Faulkner’s regret without trying to justify the multi-layered insult and Faulkner’s concluding paragraph tells a lot about both men. After Anderson got Faulkner’s first book published, “I saw Anderson only once more, because the unhappy caricature affair had happened in the meantime and he declined to see me, for several years, until one afternoon at a cocktail party in New York: and again there was that moment when he appeared taller, bigger than anything he ever wrote. Then I remembered Winesburg, Ohio and The Triumph of the Egg and some of the pieces in Horses and Men, and I knew that I had seen, was looking at, a giant in an earth populated to a great – too great – extent by pygmies, even if he did make but the two or perhaps three gestures commensurate with gianthood.”


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