Monday, August 19, 2019

Larry McMurtry on Susan Sontag

The following excerpts in which Larry McMurtry mentions Susan Sontag are from his 1999 memoir, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen:

     Susan Sontag is a reader who can almost be said to sweat literature--it is in her juices, as basketball is in Michael Jordan's. With Susan, I think, the tug of literature is as constant as breath. A characteristic she shares with all great readers is that, however stern she may intend to be, politically or philosophically, when she begins to talk about her reading she reveals a broadly catholic taste. The thrill Susan experiences when she spots a desired book she has not been able to find is probably comparable to that of a bird-watcher who at last glimpses a long-sought species. [pp. 124-125]

     Both in my library at home and in my bookshops I have a hard time hewing to any strict philosophy of shelving. Shelving by chronology (Susan Sontag's method) doesn't always work for me. The modest Everyman edition of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refuses to sit comfortably next to Leonard Baskin's tall Beowulf, and exactly the same problem--incompatibility of size--crops up if one shelves alphabetically. Susan Sontag, on a visit when all my books were in the old ranch house, found that she couldn't live even one night with the sloppiness of my shelving. She imposed a hasty chronologizing which held for some years and still holds, in the main.
    Susan's principles notwithstanding, I make free with chronologies when the books seem to demand it. My Sterne looks happier beside my Defoe than he looks next to his nearer contemporary Smollett, so Tristram Shandy sits next to Moll Flanders rather than Peregrine Pickle. [p. 167]


Sam said...

I love McMurtry's little autobiography precisely because his love of reading and his appreciation of avid readers comes through so clearly in it. Those are great quotes.

Bybee said...

Courtly, affectionate and admiring of his fellow book lovers.