urban life offered me richer possibilities as a novelist. Granting certain grand but eccentric exceptions, virtually the whole of modern literature has been a city literature. From the time of Baudelaire and James, the dense, intricate, social networks that cities create have stimulated artists and sustained them. No reason it should be any different in Texas, since we now have at least one or two cities which offer the competitions of manners upon which the modern novel feeds. It was thus something of a shock, as I started looking at my shelves of Texas books in preparation for this essay, to discover how few of them deal with city life. Not only are there few readable city books, but many of the country books are filled with explicit anti-urbanism. Writer after writer strains to reaffirm his or her rural credentials. Why? The vast majority of Texas writers have been urbanites for decades. Many are veterans not only of the Texas cities, but of the cities of the East Coast, the West Coast, and Europe. Where has this experience gone? Where are the novels, stories, poems, and plays that ought to be using it? Why are there still cows to be milked and chickens to be fed in every other Texas book that comes along? When is enough going to be allowed to be enough? .. . If Texas Monthly wants to do us a real service, it ought to solicit not merely A. C. Greene’s list of 50 Texas books, but a listing of the favorite non -Texas books of 50 Texas authors. My own sad impression is that there are plenty of Texas authors who haven’t read 50 nonTexas books in the last decade. Books about Texas cross my desk constantly and I search them hopefully but in vain for any sign of the author’s reading. Where are the borrowings and subtle or not-so-subtle thefts? Where are the echoes, allusions, correspondences, and restatements with which most richly textured books abound? Where, in our books, will one get a sense of a mind actively in contact with other minds, or a style nervously aware of other styles? Almost nowhere, that’s where. The most shocking but also the fairest charge that can be levelled at Texas literature is that it is disgracefully insular and uninformed. Writing is nourished by reading broad, curious, sustained reading; it flows from a profound alertness, fine-tuned both by literature and life. Perhaps we have not yet sloughed off the frontier notion that reading is idle or sissified. At the moment our books are protein-deficient, though the protein is there to be had, in other literatures. Until we have better readers it is most unlikely that we will have better writers. If some of the above seems overstated, it is because I’ve concluded that nothing short of insult moves people in Texas. This is perhaps another aspect of clinging frontierism. Gentle chidings go unheard. In these parts the critical act has never been accepted, much less honored; literary criticism generally means two writers having a fistfight in a bar. Not only do we need critics, we need writers who are willing to get along without one another’s approval. Literary comradeship is a fine thing up to the point at which it begins to produce a pompous, self-congratulatory, and selfprotective literary culture. In Texas, rampant good-old-boy-and-girlism has produced exactly that: a pond full of self-satisfied frogs. In my opinion the self-satisfaction is entirely unjustified. There are as yet no solid achievements in Texas letters. Those who fancy otherwise probably haven’t tried to reread the books. Cyril Connolly felt that the minimum one should ask of a book was that it remain readable for ten years. When this modest standard is applied to one’s Texas books their ranks are immediately decimated indeed, almost eliminated, in view of which it seems the more unfortunate that our in-state literary culture had begun to exhibit the sort of status consciousness characteristic of literary society in New York or London, without the excuse of talent or anything resembling the intellectual density to be found in those cities. The hunter who is reluctant to use a gig might as well avoid the frog-pond of Texas letters. Gigs are what’s needed.: As it is, most Texas writers work for, a lifetime without receiving a single . paragraph of intent criticism, and if they’ should get one now and then it will: usually come from out of state. Anything resembling a tough-minded discus. sion of Texas books by a Texan is thought to be unneighborly. The writers . get reviewed, but reviews are merely: first impressions. Criticism begins as the! second impression, or the third, and even the thumbnail variety, which is all: I can offer, is almost never practiced here. The need for hard-nosed, energetic,: and unintimidated local critics is plainly urgent. It’s one thing that our literary society has gotten so clubby and pompous, quite another that the books which constitute the reason for having a literary society are still predominantly soft, thin,: and sentimental not to mention dull, portentous, stylistically impoverished, THE TEXAS OBSERVER 63
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