There is nothing so freeing, so liberating, or so wonderful, as reading Thomas Wolfe’s prose. He has suffered over the past hundred years. He has suffered from an Academy, which, largely, ignores him. He has also suffered at the hands of a publishing industry, which is (often) far more concerned with a book’s potential for sales than it is about literary merit. And still, he can be found; look for him in your closest used bookstore (I recommend Shepherd’s on Fort St.). The rewards will be immeasurable, I fucking guarantee you.
Here are three reasons to read Thomas Wolfe.
First, Thomas Wolfe manages to make America beautiful again. Sadly, the Bush administration (and many an administration before that) has sullied our collective conception of what America is. Often, we do not think of the land, or of the land’s people; instead, we think of foreign policy, or a shoddy and insane health care system. Sometimes we think of Paula Abdul, or Oprah: just as bad. An appreciation of Wolfe will restore America’s vastness and diversity. It will restore to us the infinite, American, trestle-night. For we, a civilization so dogged with pessimism, need this even more than we need air, or water.
Second, Thomas Wolfe will make us forget about all of those silly notions that would lead us to believe that a novel like The Great Gatsby is the definitive American masterpiece, or the high water mark, of American literature, or even of literature in general. Indeed, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s attempts at lyricism, shrivels and cowers under the torment, the agony and the rejoicing of his Scribner’s and Sons counter part, Thomas Wolfe.
Fuck Hemmingway. Wolfe feasts on the marrow of American life, no, life en general; he never says things like, “the tarts, that evening, were especially pleasant”. What a bunch of horse shit, that is. Hemmingway and Wolfe shared an editor (the extraordinary Maxwell Perkins) who ascribed the laurel of genius to Wolfe alone, and yet, his insight and wisdom is lost on generations and generations of so-called literaries, who claim to enjoy Hems, “spare prose”. Blake said it best, m dear: “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. Wolfe then, is the high prophet of wisdom; he, the high prophet of all that matters.
Lastly, Wolfe is, quite simply, fun to read. I challenge you all to read the opening pages of Wolfe’s brilliant short story, Death The Proud Brother, without being physically and mentally piqued by its rambunctious and numinous prose. Why read dreary McCarthy? Why fight your way through Ulysses? Why struggle with Barnes vague and desperate buried references? Isn’t reading supposed to be pleasurable? Are we not called to something higher than name-dropping incessantly through scarf? I hope so. So, if we are, throw down your bullshit, pristine copy of Mrs. Dalloway and pick up a dog-eared copy of Look Homeward, Angel. I dare you. And if you don’t like it, I will gladly buy it from you and give it freely to someone I love.
*****In order to appease more rational readers of this Blog, I will add this disclaimer: of course you should read F. Scott Fitzgerald, of course you should read Hemmingway, and even Virginia Wolfe; I have read them as well. But, please, do so with a calm and balanced mind. Don’t allow yourselves to be fooled, as so many before you, by blatant, and unyielding, and subjective, class-ism. Lets take literature back as a form of communication for the masses. It is all that I ask. And yes, I speak strongly. Yes, I speak authoritatively, but who hears this, anyways? I, not at no lectern, am screaming into the wind, writing, on a blog. ******