Meet James Branch Cabell

A line from the first graph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s previously unpublished 1920 short story in The New Yorker:

I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser, and James Branch Cabell in one year.

“James Branch Cabell” — WHOTF IS THAT?

(Just so you know, the name is CAB-ble — “Tell the rabble my name is Cabell,” he told his publisher.)

Here’s a page about him almost as eccentric as he was.

And a nice, detailed online bio.

What I have to add is that I read his masterpiece, Jurgen, the same year I read The Hobbit — 1962, when I was in fifth grade. Except that Jurgen is wildly inappropriate for a fifth-grade audience and I have not the faintest how it got in the classroom library except that, hey, fantasy book, terrific fairy-tale type illustrations. Must have been a library cut-out that nobody looked at for longer than five seconds. (Shows the depth of Cabell’s popularity that a copy of his book made it all the way to little Livingston MT.)

Anyway, it was a wild ride of a read with a lot of sex stuff way, way over my head. Then about 10 years later when fantasy lit was on a major rebound, Cabell was reissued in paperback and I decided that Jurgen was at least 10-20 times better than anything else he did, which was prolix, if occasionally witty, blather.

But go dig up a copy of Jurgen — it’s 1920s the way On the Road is beatnik ’50s.

Little Cambridge Anecdote and Sad Update

The only supermarket I could get to easily without a car when I first moved back East was the rather whimsically named Purity Supreme. Our local branch was nicknamed “Poverty Supreme” because it seemed only the downtrodden of Central Square shopped there. (Ironically, the only new grocery outfit to open while we were in town was the marvelously named Bread & Circus, which started out granola-mad but soon became a higher-quality alternative to Poverty Supreme, when we could afford it — B&C later was acquired by Whole Foods.)

Purity Supreme was a good one-stop because it included Supreme Liquors, where I bought my first beers in MA. The state liquor store system in MT made them all into faceless dispensers, but Supreme Liquors boasted entertaining clientele and employees. It was a totally independent business that took the name for convenience of association — so when the supermarket disappeared, Supreme Liquors continued on. A few years ago, out of nostalgia, I stopped by to see what the place was like in the 21st century. What. A. Dump. Only the most basic and commercial offerings.

Then this morning, driving through Central Square, I noticed Supreme Liquors had decided to overtly cater to alcoholics: NEW STORE HOURS: MON-SAT OPEN AT 8 AM, SUN OPEN AT 10 AM. As a wise old drunk in Missoula once told me, “Nobody needs to buy booze at eight in the morning, but some people have to.”

Life Bounced Back Quick After “The Great Dying”

Of course something like this was one of my fantasies as a dinosaur-crazy kid. And of course I’m tickled that Montana State University at Bozeman has become a champeen prehistory center — be sure to visit the marvelous Museum of the Rockies if you get around there. The notion of rapid recovery after extinctions shows a moving away from more medieval mindsets in science. Best of all — after the next one, there won’ be any of those sad, sick, destructive hairless apes around.