Wallace Stegner

I.E. Reader, second post: Graham Foust

ieReaderWebPromoSquareThis morning I was reading Wallace Stegner’s novel Crossing to Safety (in the bathtub, for those who track this kind of thing), and was struck by a chapter about a dinner party of some young English professors at the University of Wisconsin in the early middle of the last century. There is a lot in that section to grab my attention, including the academic climate just after the depression (people still cared about Chaucer and Spencer like they mattered), the drinking habits just after prohibition (capable hosts couldn’t mix a Manhattan), and the social dynamic between husbands and wives who could read Homer in Greek, and who would stand around the piano and sing hymns after dinner then listening to Beethoven A-sides in the sitting room. What fun!

One striking moment came when Sid, the party’s host, read from a volume of Housman, and everyone knew he was leading things a bit, but they indulged him as he read “Easter Hymn.” Then they discussed it in terms of what it meant for understanding the rest of Housman’s work, how it seemed too Christian for the old guy, how the two stanzas seemed out of order — and I loved reading all that. It made me 10 minutes late for work. Then I wondered if it would be possible for a contemporary poet to revisit Housman. Certainly no one today ought to go back and emulate him directly — he’s too transparent, too wrought in scansion and sentimental in thought to be compelling nowadays — but is anyone who’s any good making an update?

Well, below the fold, check out Graham Foust’s poem in the I.E. Reader, which is so primarily ahead of the surveillance that I was jolted to read it. It’s so throwback: READ MORE >

Author Spotlight / 4 Comments
November 24th, 2009 / 11:18 am

Not tonight, darling. I have to finish this John Vanbrugh play. And, uh, I have a headache

thegreathuntI imagine that I’m not the only one that carries around up to half a dozen books with them everywhere they go, at all times. I really hate having any kind of down time with nothing to read. Doctor’s office, in line at Walgreens, on my way to sell books at the Strand, less exciting moments in foreign movies I’m watching, or for when my lady friend is watching Top Chef. Whatever. One of the few I was lugging along on the train today—Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (which is pretty great so far, fyi)—had an interesting passage that got me to thinking about the previously unconsidered victims of my solipsistic and obsessive habits.

“You must have brought something. Books? I never saw you without a green bag of books.” To her mother she says, “He reads everywhere—in the subway, between the acts at plays, at intermissions in Symphony Hall, on picnics, on dates.

This speech conveys considerable information to Aunt Emily. She watches Sid’s eyes close in mock agony, while a really very engaging smile takes over from the sheepishness on his face. “Well, there’s so much to read, and I’m so far behind. Everybody’s read ten times more than I have.”

“What did you bring?” Charity asks. “Restoration dramas?”

“I’m taking a rest from those. I’ve just got some hole-fillers. Middlemarch, The Idiot, things like that, novels I should have read but haven’t.”

When is it okay to bring along books, and when is it not? Dinner parties? The bar? Bar Mitzvahs? Sporting events? Sporting events where your team sucks and them losing is a foregone conclusion but you still want to tacitly show your admittedly wavering support? Please advise.

Behind the Scenes & Power Quote / 31 Comments
October 6th, 2009 / 3:03 pm