Friday, May 8, 2009


I thought I'd take a day to thank some people.

Firstly, I owe a debt to the magazines I read. The critics who've taught me most of what I know about the authors and poets and artists and composers and performers who create the culture. The analysts who explain politics while events are still warm, before they become history, and the history in the background of those events.

In the book I thank the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and their book review, the BBC and NPR and PBS. And Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, which has influenced my voice, as his, I'm sure, was influenced by White and Thurber and Benchley and Leibling, and theirs by Addison and Steele and Hazlitt and Lamb.

I owe them all. They are the voices speaking in my head as I write. The New Yorker crowd especially. White and Thurber and Benchley are in A Book of Ages several times each, as are Dorothy Parker and J. D. Salinger and William Shawn and Harold Ross and Saul Steinberg and S. J. Perelman and John Updike and Calvin Trillin, all part of that miscellaneous genius that arrives here in Minneapolis once every week inside a brilliantly illustrated cover. With cartoons.

Keillor should have been in the book too, but somehow he seemed too contemporary. I'd met him and, like Groucho Marx, we tend to disparage clubs that allow us to be members. I'd have included Garrison's first visit to the Grand Ol' Opry, which gave him the idea he might be up to doing a weekly radio variety program. He'd already hosted a daily one, which I'd listened to mornings while getting ready for work.

Every day I read the paper. Every week the handful of magazines arrived full of new material. As I read I jotted. As I heard anecdotes I asked myself "When did that happen? How old was he, or she?" The jottings became a collection and the collection became a book.

What's interesting is how the many (over 700) different personalities I included––authors being the largest group, but also poets and painters, composers, rock stars, cooks, politicians, husbands and wives, film stars and film directors, generals and assassins and bank robbers, monarchs and revolutionaries, wits and fools, celebrities and journalists–-all of them began talking to each other, adjacent entries commenting on each other, presenting mute ironies and unexpected punning references back and forth. But all of it originated in, was heard or read, in other sources, who read or heard it in other sources themselves. That's the culture for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment