R.I.P.: Robert B. Silvers

The New York Review of Books and the Village Voice were the bookends of my literary fantasies about New York and the East Coast in general, back when I had never been out here. Brainy/wild — lively/civilized … they could make you feel less lonely out in the thickets and ranges. One aspect I most admired about NY Review is that it was thorough.

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A line from the first graph of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s previously unpublished 1920 short story in The New Yorker: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

Odd Phenomenon for Your Friday

Reading a New Yorker article about the “purge” of old-timer Oscar voters I ran across a reference to a late-’50s novel called Home Before Dark. Sounded intriguing, so I decided to see if it was, if not in print, available at all. Turns out there’s a humongous number of books titled Home Before Dark:

1.Home Before Dark (Carolina Moon) by Christy Barritt

2.Home Before Dark by Susan Wiggs

 3.Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever

4.Home Before Dark: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories by Gary A. Braunbeck and Deena Warner

5.Home Before Dark by Bryant M. Kirkland

6.Home Before Dark by Ian Beck

7.Home Before Dark by Lilly Maytree

8.Home Before Dark… by Kim Vogler

9.Home Before Dark by Bluey Rogers

10.Home Before Dark by Polly Asbury

11.Home Before Dark: A Family Portrait of Cancer and Healing by David Treadway and Kate Treadway

12.Home Before Dark by Sue Ellen BRIDGERS

13.Home Before Dark by Margaret Johnson

14.Home Before Dark by Charles MacLean

15.Home Before Dark by Jo Hammond

16.Home Before Dark by Eileen Bassing

And, though there are more, I will stop there because that’s the novel that inspired the search.

On Stefan Zweig

When I first read The World of Yesterday in the early ’70s I had a naive youngster’s response to Zweig’s heartbreaking, tragic story — both in his book and his life. “How sad he and his wife committed suicide in 1942 when things looked bleakest. If he had just held on, I’m sure he would have lived long enough to sense that the world was stumbling forward in the direction he wanted.”

Now that I know some actual exiles, I much more appreciate and understand Zweig’s inescapable hollow feelings. And now that I’m five years older than he was at the end, I comprehend how the promise of a vanished future can haunt you, and even change your life. I had more than one dear friend who, consciously or not, destroyed themselves after the early ’80s made it obvious that the dreams of the ’60s and ’70s were dashed for good.

R.I.P.: Byron Dobell

Quite the extravagant career(s). (And life, really.) Ending up making a living at his first passion is quite a satisfying turn. (I vaguely knew he became a painter, but had forgotten.) In an era that doesn’t even bother with copy-editors, it’s a remarkable reminder of how much clout a visionary editor could have.

Of course, the downside is all that gossiping and the constant pecking-order adjustments. Clubs and cabals and cults — I miss the literary power I grew up with, but I don’t miss that aspect of it at all.

A Touch of Karen Dalton


Dylan, Dalton and Neil.

I’m not gonna be able to finish Barney Hoskyns’s Small Town Talk, but it’s more about me than the book (well, that Robbie Robertson autobio also undercuts it). I’ve had more than a couple friends die from substance abuse and I never found it a romantic enterprise but the older I get the more horrifying and depressing it becomes. And the story of the Band and brilliant souls like Tim Hardin become too tough to dwell on.

Karen Dalton was the closest the Folk Movement came to unearthing a voice that would shake up Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music series. It simply came out of her. The book gave me the excuse to listen back to her second (of only two) albums released while she was around  — In My Own Time. [Let’s get this out of the way: It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going To Love You the Best is her masterpiece and absolutely the first thing to grab.] Cannot deny it — the attempts to “expand” Dalton’s range like “When a Man Loves a Woman” are dreadful, but when she consumes and digests a song like the mysterious “Katie Cruel,” there’s no other version you want first.

I was glad to read in the Hoskyns that Dalton’s final years were not as grim as reported in the liner notes to In My Own Time. Nevertheless … grim.