Philip Davis professor of English literature at Liverpool University, author of Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life, and editor of The Reader is back with another fascinating blog post. This post originally appeared on Moreover.
Come the last week in October, my wife and I will be flying to New York, to do publicity work for my biography of Bernard Malamud. Last time, we travelled in from Boston by train, which was a mistake. We came to a halt for a long hour and a half, just outside Queens. It felt just like the words of the song: if we could make it there, we could make it anywhere – but we couldn’t.
There is to be a Malamud event on October 31 at the 92nd Street Y, where Malamud himself gave readings. A number of people who are featured in the biography threaten to turn up – a biographer’s nightmare, wherein he finds himself crying out in the midst of the Y, of all places, ‘Is there a lawyer in the house?’ In my reverie, only doctors answer, leading me away. A Malamud on you all, I shout.
And so I have been reinforcing my Jewish defences with Yiddish outworks. ‘Do me no favors’ has always been the family motto here. A fire on him, a fire on him in Boot Street, a curse of choice. He knows from his boots, a term of contempt. But now is the time for new exclamations in a new age. ‘A blog on you!’ is what I cry.
And may the curse of the blog fall today on one who sent an uncomplimentary email about me – not to that other guy called Phil, but to me myself instead. And the writer allegedly a helper with my New York arrangements. In days of yore, the poet Burns put it like this:
O would some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves
as others see us.
That power is now called email. Who needs such gifts? such helpers?
But I have had it happen to me before, another way round. A rather distinguished American novelist I had once briefly interviewed emailed me a year later, quite out of the blue, to praise my physical appearance and ask me out for lunch in a swanky Boston restaurant the following day. I was delighted to accept immediately, only saying it was a little difficult to guarantee being on time from Liverpool. But of course I wasn’t the blonde called Philippa, and the novelist, unappreciative of irony, never got back to me again.
So what is the name, I want to know, for when, embarrassingly, you send a rude or compromising email to its very own subject, rather than to its proposed recipient. Do you say ‘I e-threw a Boomerang’? Or (after Hamlet) ‘I petarded myself’. Or is it ‘A Nebish’s Nemesis’. As its editor, I offer a year’s free subscription to The Reader literary magazine for the best suggestion received.
In the meantime, I await my New York fate, wandering some cursed Boot Street like a traveller from a distant land journeying to praise the prophet in his own country; an Ancient Mariner seeking to tell his tales of Malamud. ‘What kind of dog is that?’ my hero asked one day in the streets of New York, at the height of his fame, eyeing a large husky. ‘A malamute’ said the owner, proudly. ‘ His name?’ the novelist asked warily, as the dog sniffed forward. ‘Bernard’ was the reply.
Citizens of New York and all other areas appertaining: just in case things happen to go wrong with the emailed arrangements for my visit, I am available for readings of Malamud at weddings, funerals or barmitzvahs, October 27 through to November 3. Or a blog on you.