Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Irresistible Delight of a New Book

Despite the fact that I am in the middle of numerous books (Louis Rubin's new book on writing and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and a Jim Harrison book that had become lost in a confusion of papers but has now surfaced and a story collection by Joan Aiken), I bought several used books on Saturday. I was fleeing the cleaning job for a teen sleepover and birthday extravaganza, and I just happened to go by Willis Monie's and tumble into the long hall and through the door.

It was rainy and slick: no wonder I slipped.

To console myself for my lot (cleaning drudge and teen party maven), I came home with a 2-volume compendium of Muriel Stark's novels and a copy of Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales--one of the many books I once owned but relinquished to the great moving-and-fundraising sale of 1991. Perhaps it was 1990.

Whenever it was, it was sad.

The party is almost ready. The gold-and-silver leaves are twined in the chandelier, with peacock feathers and strings of tiny transparent pumpkins. As soon as the pack of girls arrives, I shall call halt to all fussing and cleaning, and I shall plunge into my books. Simultaneously, if I can manage it.


"Perhaps it is because a foreigner, writing English, often falls as it were by accident on inimitably fresh ways of using our battered old words. Perhaps quite simply, the style seems so original and strange because the personality using it is original and strange." And having come to no conclusion at all, you will turn back to read until you are again stopped by some passage for which you can't find a comparison in the writing you know. Like this one, in "The Supper at Elsinore" at the end of the party. The two middle-aged but still brilliant sisters "were happy to get rid of their guests; but a little silent bitter minute accompanied the pleasure. For they could still make people fall in love with them; they had the radiance in them which could refract little rainbow effects on the atmosphere of Copenhagen existence. But who could make them feel in love? At this moment, the tristesse of the eternal hostess stiffened them a little."
--Dorothy Canfield, in the introduction to Isak Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.