“Everydayness is good; particular-dayness
So begins Canto VI of Autumn Sequel (1954), Louis MacNeice’s much-maligned successor to his masterpiece, Autumn Journal (1939). I came late to the internet – 1999 – and then only because I left a newspaper to work for a university. As recently as a decade ago, the editorial staff at a second-tier daily in upstate New York could work without e-mail or internet access, with computers serving strictly as word processors. As I, a one-time Luddite, think about it, I have to acknowledge, belatedly, how much the digital age has encouraged the bookish side of my life. Previously, in my ignorance, I had judged computers the ironclad enemy of literacy (as, in fact, they often are). MacNeice writes in the next stanza of Autumn Sequel: “Daily demands a different colour of praise…”
I cite MacNeice because he’s a writer I knew mostly by reputation, as a sort of proxy-Auden, and I’ve come to know his work deeply only since reading his poems on line, hearing his recordings and reading what others (readers, critics) have written about him. Like love, appreciation begins in curiosity, a habit of mind ideally suited to the internet, with its vast connectedness and ease of access. I can follow a whim not necessarily to a library or bookstore but to a blogger or someone else with enough dedication to say something about a writer they have loved or who has otherwise made a difference in their lives.
This simple process, unimagined 10 years ago, has rewarded me a thousand times. I owe my discovery of, or deeper knowledge of, so many good writers to the internet – Theodore Dalrymple, Fernando Pessoa, Joseph Roth, Eugenio Montale, Eric Ormsby. A generous young man in Boston wrote to me on Tuesday:
“It’s shocking and sad how few people really live with books nowadays. To take my books away would be to remove half my brain - the individual would remain, but that sense of connection with something larger, something universal and reassuring, would be lost. I think that's why I enjoy Anecdotal Evidence so much.”