This is the cover artwork for the revised paperback:
This is the cover artwork for the hardback copy:
Isn’t it so much better? It has more of that random quality that I think this book needed. (I actually printed it out and taped it onto the cover of my paperback – I recommend you do the same.)
Chance Meetings by Rachel Cohen
I seem to be disappointed with a lot of books recently, books that, had my expectations not been either so high or of a certain take on the subject, I probably would have enjoyed greatly. Alas, this is another to fall into that category. From the title and the blurb on the back of the book, I sort of expected this book to be about how the lives of American authors and artists had unexpectedly intertwined with one another, how, say, one day John Cage accidently spilled coffee on the person next to him in the cafe and it turned out to be Marcel Duchamp or Mark Twain reached for the same book in the library as Ulysses S. Grant. Or something. But I expected their meetings to be much more…well, mystical, frankly. Orchestrated by Fate. Turns out, the relationships and friendships Cohen outlines in this book were rather more mundane. Many were either mutal admirers of one another or simply introduced by mutal acquaintances.
Now, once you accept that this book will not inspire exclamations of “And just think, if Henry James had not missed his bus that day, he never would have met Mathew Brady,” it’s a very interesting book. The authors and artists that Cohen covers range from Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett to Norman Mailer and Gertrude Stein to Zora Neale Hurston and Merce Cunningham and it is interesting to see the effects they all had on one another. It was rather a, well not quite incestuous group, but there were many complex relationships among them all.
I will admit that, despite having an English degree, there were a couple of people with whom I was not familiar. I don’t know who William Dean Howells is, presumably mostly a reviewer and/or editor rather than a writer, but all I could think of was the millionaire from Gilligan’s Island. And I’m pretty sure that’s not who Cohen was writing about. Also, I did not know that Jewett was part of the American literature canon – I only knew her as the person whose books are usually on the shelf in the used bookstore where Jerome K. Jerome’s books should be. (Just so you know it usually skips from Henry James straight to Sarah Orne Jewett. Poor Jerome.) So it has become obvious that I still have a lot to learn about literature.
I think that the thing I enjoyed most was that it made these figures of the literati seem more human, made their fame and accomplishments seem, not more prosaic, but more attainable, but at the same time managed not to lessen their obvious genius.
My rating: B+