Friday, June 19, 2009

The year I graduated ...

... from high school: When the World Tilted--Again. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Kerouac's On the Road came out in 1957, so I guess you could say that 1959 was at least two years in the making. Also, Herman Kahn was only part of the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove. Henry Kissinger figured as well. As for Orville Prescott,"the New York Times's stuffy daily book critic," here's a snippet from his obituary:

If there was any doubt about Mr. Prescott's judgments, he defined his positions in an essay written after his retirement and published in The Saturday Review. First of all, he said that "all critics practice a craft which consists of personal, subjective opinion tempered by experience and wide reading." It was, he said, "not only inevitable but fitting and proper that they should disagree among themselves."

Then he named the contemporary novelists he thought were "worthy of thoughtful attention," but who were "excessively overpraised" by his colleagues. On Mr. Prescott's list were William Faulkner ("the most distinguished of these intermittently brilliant authors"), John O'Hara, Robert Penn Warren, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, John Updike, J. D. Salinger, William Styron, Henry Green, Graham Greene, Laurence Durrell, Gunter Grass and Vladimir Nabokov.

In contrast, he said, there were novelists who were "more significant and truthful interpreters of life." Their novels "represent the best fiction of the past 25 years." On this list were John P. Marquand, James Gould Cozzens, Louis Auchincloss, Conrad Richter, John Hersey, Joyce Cary, C. P. Snow Rumer Godden and Evelyn Waugh.

Debatable for sure, but there is much to be said for that list of writers he thought were "more significant and truthful interpreters of life."


  1. Well, he would, wouldn't he?

  2. Jonathan6:09 PM

    Oh dear,

    The second list is, with the exception of Waugh, Cary and Snow, completely unknown to me.

    Time for some research/book buying.

  3. Criticism truly is, as Mencken said, prejudice made plausible, and I find Prescott's list of prejudices -- Marquand, Cozzens, Auchincloss, Richter, Hersey, Cary, Snow, Godden, Waugh -- eminently plausible. Marquand, America hath need of thee. Then again, there are a few in the first listing that I think are incapable of being overpraised . . . but that's prejudice!

  4. 'Nother thought: 1959 was the year everything changed for me, too, but for a prosaic reason: I was faced with finding a full-time job after graduating from high school. Fortunately, I found one, and a pretty good one. It was easier to do that then, I think, than it is now.

  5. Cozzen's Guard of Honor is very fine, one of the best novels about military command. Also very funny.

  6. "Guard of Honor" won the Pulitzer, a rare instance of their getting it right. I have read that more than one critic/observer judges it THE best American novel of WWII. I don't know; there are a couple others just as good, but none better.