Friday, November 07, 2008

A literary critiic...

...can change your life. Remembering John Leonard. (The Mumpsimus)

Once, I sent him a fan letter. I've hardly ever sent any fan letters in my life, not because I'm not a fan of many people and many things, but because when I gush I sound like a Valley Girl, and my dignity can only bear it occasionally. But at some point or another I felt the need to let John Leonard know that I was the lost child of his sentences. He never wrote back or signed the adoption papers, but I didn't necessarily want him to -- a fan letter is not an invitation to correspondance, but a proclamation of joy, and once I finished proclaiming, I'd done what I needed to do. I imagined him going to soirees and hanging out with the literati, with Don DeLillo on speed dial and Salman Rushdie hiding in his basement. I imagined he might be amused for a moment to learn that a kid in the middle of nowhere heard his voice crying out in the wilderness and found comfort and inspiration in it, and I imagined he would toss the letter away and chuckle for a moment and then go back to sharing a smoke with the latest Nobel winner (if he even read the letter himself; I imagined he had hordes of assistants). Though now, in my cynical old age, I know John Leonard's life was probably a bit more prosaic than I imagined when I was young, I still like the fantasy, and I hold onto it along with the atavisms and avatars, the Chaos Theory and fractals, the library and its dissidents. One of the dissidents has left, but, as a bit of consolation, we get to keep his books.

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