Appreciation for Ohio author Jack Matthews (1925-2013)

by Robert Nagle on 12/9/2013

in Jack Matthews,obituaries

Here’s a literary obituary and appreciation of Ohio author Jack Matthews who died on November 28 at the age of 88.  I’ll probably write a more personal tribute later. Also, I finally posted the audio of the erudite 45 minute interview I did with Jack in 2010.

A lot is going on at the moment in my life (and plus there’s a lot of half-finished pieces lying around).  I need to find a job pretty quickly, so that’s on my front burner now. I post fairly frequently on my Google Plus account -– which I’m not particularly enthusiastic about, but certainly like better than Facebook (here’s why).

More:  I’ve had a pretty good correspondence with Jack Matthews over the four years I knew him. We definitely were on the same wavelength about lots of things.  I am not sure, but there’s a good chance that I might have received the last email ever written by Jack Matthews (I had asked him to write me a brief reference for me — which he did).  His mind was still sharp, but he fatigued quickly, and emails are such effort (for me as well as him).

Here’s  a late-night email I sent him last April. The first paragraph is an excerpt from his book Collecting Rare Books for Pleasure and Profit. It’s a quirky and interesting book with lots of fun parts, although his essay collections which he published in the 1980s are much more important.

***

Sunday, April 07, 2013 1:05 AM

Dear Jack,

It is a similar silliness to pretend that buying books “as an investment” is incompatible with scholarship or the true love of literature; Quite the contrary; it is the man who divides his love of literature from the material life who is the true heretic, using only the public library or the niggardly functional paperback for the leavening of his sensibility, and investing his money in Ford Motor Company and AT&T stock. What a dreary divarication is this, and how schizoid and truly mercenary is the man who plays such a nasty game against himself! To invest in books does not imply that the collector intends to sell them; he merely buys them with the conviction that his taste in honoring them will be validated by posterity and that – with effort and know-how comparable to those of other investors – this validation will have a dimension of financial profit.  The investment aspect of collecting is utterly fascinating, for it carries with it the excitement of competition in skill, expertise and taste. Often, too, there is the added excitement of the chase, in the auction room, the book fair and in the “field,” tracking down literary manuscripts, letters or rare titles.  (CRBFPAP, p 6-77)

A really fun passage. Even though I quoted it before in one of my essays, I just now enjoyed the language and style of it  (“true heretic””AT&T stock”  “leavening of his sensibility”, “divarication” etc. ). It is one of the sad ironies of time that it takes so long while for even diehard fans to catch up with enjoying the subtle artistry’s  of another author’s language — to say nothing of scholars and general readers. I pick this passage for no particular reason, merely to remind myself that long after you have bitten the dust, I (and hopefully others)  will be admiring (and chuckling over)  oodles  of similar and yet-to-be-discovered passages, but be unable to send these trivial late-night notes of appreciation to the living- and-breathing composer of them.

That, I guess, comprises  the silly comedy of the writer’s profession……

Robert

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