Thursday, August 1, 2013

Goodbye to a Voice

John Graves became an icon for Texas writers on account of one book, Goodbye to a River, which addressed what is eternal about Texas, and ever threatened. Our current dialogues, economic and political, fasten upon the superficial, and perhaps that is no surprise for a species that dwells in the tiny strip of earth and atmosphere that is habitable. We dwell there, still, despite our yearning to punch holes both ways, up and down, and we would do well to remember it.

Graves knew that from the beginning. It’s one reason his book has endured, still in print as a hardback from Knopf (Random House) after more than fifty years.
I celebrate this reality, but the aspect of Graves’s work that has stayed with me is his voice, his presence on the page. I read a blogger today who called that sonorous, supple voice “antiquated.” That River book, he said, might not be published today.

What a reductive comment--reductive, not of the book, but of the human spirit that animates publishing. Of our spirit as readers.
Great writing unrolls across the page according to a rhythm that resounds in a place far older and deeper than the thin layer of dopamine receptors activated by one’s most recent Twitter fix. Great writing allows time for the meaning of the words to strike the heart. It allows time for thought that’s contemplative, not reactive--the type of thought that forms character.

John’s writing does this. It also confirms that you are the kind of person capable of both thought and character. If writing can have gravitas, John’s does, as he did in person along with a leonine grace. My husband says that everyone wanted to be John’s friend, and moreover, known to be his friend. Being his friend felt like an accolade, a confirmation of some profound quality in one’s own self. 
That opportunity is now gone, but his voice rolls on. His voice is the river.

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