Tuesday, October 09, 2012

`Human Beings May Still Connect'

A reader from Berkeley, Calif., of all places, writes:

“…I remember that a few years ago you wrote appreciatively about J.V. Cunningham and Irving Howe, and since you obviously enjoy and accumulate books, I thought I would offer you something I picked up today at the UC Berkeley library sale.

“A couple of years ago, Berkeley was given the library of the late Nicholas Howe, Irving's Anglo-Saxonist son, and are now finally putting out for sale what appear to them to be the duplicate dregs. I bought (for a dollar) J.V. Cunningham's Tradition and Poetic Structure (1960), admittedly with a faded spine and no dustwrapper, but inscribed `For Irving, Aug.29, 1960, J.V.C.’

“I already have The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham, in which this is all reprinted, so from the textual (if not the sentimental) point of view, this is `superfluous to requirements’. Would you like it? — as a gift of course — in which case, all I need is an address.”

I mention this to share my good fortune and to express gratitude for the thoughtful, generous readers I’ve attracted in the last six and a half years. Nicholas Howe I knew only as the editor of his father’s posthumous A Critic’s Notebook (1994). The younger Howe died six years ago, age fifty-three, of leukemia. Five of his books have been published in the last decade, two since his death.  Like his father he was a hard working writer, not an academic careerist, and my reader’s generosity has moved me to read Across an Inland Sea: Writing in Place from Buffalo to Berlin (Princeton University Press, 2003). I also pulled out A Critic’s Notebook to reread Irving Howe’s “Anecdote and Storyteller,” an essay I had in mind while planning this blog and choosing a name for it. Howe defines the anecdote as a “brief, unelaborated, often humorous account of a single incident, taken to be piquant in its own right.” He adds:

 “One of its attractions is that in times of dislocation, the anecdote holds out the possibility that human beings may still connect, perhaps only briefly, through memory and story.”

Think of the connections spelled out in this brief anecdote: my reader and Kurp; Irving Howe and J.V. Cunningham; Kurp and J.V. Cunningham; Kurp and Irving Howe; Nicholas Howe and Irving Howe; Nicholas Howe and Kurp. Not bad for a time of dislocation.

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