A Small Tribute To Some Literary Giants

on Sunday, June 10, 2012
It's shaping up to be a sad year for literature.

Having just read that Barry Unsworth died, I realise that we've lost three writers who, if you will pardon the pun, bookmarked significant developmental stages in my reading/writing life.

First, of course, was Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are. I still remember sitting on the huge caterpillar pillow in my primary school library, sailing off to the world of Max and the wild things, oblivious to the other kids or teachers around me. Although I might not have truly understood the book at the time, it encouraged me to disappear into my own imagination and actively engage with the people and things I met there. I dare say it was also the precursor to my tenth grade Creative Writing teacher calling my parents in to discuss my "very fertile, but rather disturbing" mind.

Like many teens I gravitated toward dystopias, thanks in part to the great Ray Bradbury. Cormier's I Am The Cheese might have pipped it at the post, but Fahrenheit 451, with its world of banned books (take it as allegory for censorship or, as Bradbury himself claimed, the destructive force of mindless entertainments on reading) played an important part in opening my eyes to the subversive potential of the written word.

Barry Unsworth played a much more subtle role in my life, and not through any of his more celebrated works. Losing Nelson, Unsworth's tale of a lonely old man playing with his army figurines in a dark basement, taught me the importance of quiet beauty in literature, and showed me that a microcosm filled with compassion and empathy (the whole book takes place in his flat) can be just as weighty as a multi-generational, multi-national epic. In my humble opinion, it should have won him a second Booker.

Sendak, Bradbury, Unsworth and, of course Carlos Fuentes. Mortal men, it turns out, but immortal artists.


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