Over the past few days two prominent obituaries have appeared in The New York Times. Both men were exceptionally accomplished writers. Talented. Creative. The old school term is that both were “Men of Letters.” John Hollander was one of the great poets in America, having taught at Hunter College and Yale University. He distinguished himself in a variety of ways. Albert Murray was an enormously creative essayist living in Harlem. He taught at Barnard, Columbia and Emory University, as well as publishing several books.
I had not heard of either of them.
How can this be? I’m a literature guy. A poetry guy. I still read. I buy more books in one year than what most people buy in a lifetime. And I love Harlem, and have been a student of artists and writers working in Harlem. Yet, I had not heard of either John Hollander or Albert Murray.
In a strange kind of way, my glaring ignorance reminded me of a Bible passage found in First Corinthians . . . “for now we only know in part.” The knowledge of the world keeps expanding, growing like hungry yeast in a ball of dough, and at some point it passes us by. You can’t read enough. Think enough. Ponder enough to keep up. Swoosh. Boom. The world is beyond us. What we know diminishes, while what we could know exponentially expands.
I’m torn about it all. I want to run to my Amazon account right now and buy books by both men. Hollander’s poetry. Murray’s essays. I want to read them. But I have too many books as it is. And when will I find the time and energy to read them? I have a library of good intentions. I’m not sure what to do. Do I give up? Read what I want to read? Or should I start watching television all the time? Binge on Netflix? (Yes, Orange is the New Black is fantastic.) Forget about books?
I’m trying to Take a Breath today. I know we only know in part. I get it. But the only thing I know to do is to keep gathering new ideas and new thoughts and new perspectives. Like reading a book from an author about whom I knew nothing until his passing. Or renting a movie I should have watched twenty years ago but didn’t. Or even re-learning something I skimmed years ago while in school.
The world keeps offering itself to us again and again. And until it stops, surely the only thing to do is to keep taking it in. Which means that this blog post is done for today. Time to head over to Amazon.