I was deeply saddened this morning to learn of D. G. Myers’s death. I have been reading A Commonplace Blog since I started blogging myself; I can still remember how pleased I was when I noticed that Novel Readings had made its way onto his blog roll. We have also both been on Twitter for a long time, and he was integral to many of the most stimulating conversations I have overheard or participated in there. We had very different reading sensibilities; there would not be much overlap between our lists of our top 100 favorite books. But I always enjoyed and learned from the learned and passionate way he wrote about books, and more than once he convinced me to try something I would not have picked up otherwise — Roland Merullo’s The Talk Funny Girl, for instance, or John Williams’s Stoner, which he was an advocate for well before it became a belated overnight sensation. With posts like “Francine Prose and the Great Tradition,” he gave the lie to those who dismiss book blogging as an inherently trivial and trivializing form of critical discourse. We had some of the same concerns about the direction of the modern academy in general and English departments in particular; his perspective on causes and possible solutions wasn’t exactly mine, but then, his experience was also different; posts like “An End to Readings” spurred me to think more and think harder about my own views on criticism. I was endlessly moved and impressed by his unsentimental candor and good spirits during his long illness; it seems fitting that what turned out to be his final blog post was entitled “Choosing Life in the Face of Death.” His was a sharp, smart, witty, provocative, generous voice in the online literary world; though I never met him face to face, I know already that I will miss his presence in my reading and thinking life.
A tribute from Terry Teachout appears here, another from Patrick Kurp here. Apparently an online “Festschrift” is in preparation; I’ll add a link to it when it goes up. As my own quiet form of acknowledgment, I plan to read one more book from the long list of those he convinced me I ought to, Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder. “Along with handing [readers] something good to read,” he said about this novel, “it will renew their faith in what literature is capable of achieving.” That renewal always seemed to me the faith that his own writing was most profoundly about.
Update: Here’s a link to the round-up of tributes from friends and colleagues.
I am devastated by the news. I have no other words. My brief acknowledgement of this sad day appears at my blog, and I have linked to your moving tribute.
Though beyond saddened by the news, I am very glad you will be picking up Sophie Wilder. I look forward to discussing it together! The best tribute possible.
In 2009, I was in a cafe in Barcelona checking my email, a few months after my novel had been published, when I saw the Google Alert that someone had written about the novel and followed the link to a Commonplace Blog, which I had never heard of before. There, feeling something between panic and fascination that is hard to fully describe (but it surely included heart palpitations), I read DG Myer’s review of my book. Although he did not totally endorse the book, he admired many aspects of it, and he took it very, very seriously. A remarkable experience for a new novelist whose book did not get the broad attention we think we long for.
After that, I followed his reviews and his other writing very carefully. He did sometimes seem scary to me, because he could be so harsh, but he also made me laugh, and I always believed he was telling the truth, that he would not tolerate obfuscation.
I really didn’t think he was going to die. It was confusing because he wrote so openly about his sickness and about death, but the prose sounded so alive, the tweets especially alive. The fact that he died this past Friday has deep resonance. It was not only the Jewish Sabbath, but the Sabbath in the midst of the Jewish Days of Awe–the High Holidays–which began on Wednesday night. A holy of holys.
I had just found him in the last year. I didn’t have the benefit of the extensive acquaintance the other commenters have had. But, my literary tastes quickly got such valuable instruction! Rohan, I picked up Beha’s Whatever Happened to Sophie Wilder on Myers’ recommendation and have been very glad I did.
The briefness doesn’t reflect the goodness and the impact.
Myers was a model for literary seriousness, which of course includes a sense of humor. Is it crazy to attach so much importance to art – no, no no!
My top 100 favorites did not overlap Myers so much either, but I have to say that every time he pointed me to a book, whether a novel or a work of criticism, it was excellent. I mean, easily worth reading, whether or not it worked against my usual tastes or was my new favorite book. If this is not the basic responsibility of a book reviewer, I don’t know what is.