Edmond Alan Poe and The Uses of Sadness


‘Do you have a book about this thick that has poetry? I had it as a child and then it went west. It had the good poetry in it, Edmond Alan Poe and ones like that. It was exactly this thick. Good for when I was a sad thing and I often was with a mother like mine. The thing about this poetry is that it was enjoyable, not like the poetry of today……does nothing to cheer a person up does it!’

This customer, Sally, who was my first customer for the day made a noise of contempt, twice for emphasis.

‘The book went west, there are some people you should just stay away from, like people who take your poetry books. Let me know if you find it.’

I promised that I would.

Bruce came in to pick up his copy of The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon and he turned around in a circle to describe to me the number of good books there were to be read. He said that his mother died of cancer when he was 11 years old and there were no counsellors in those days to help a person out. But he had always had books. Then he looked apologetic and said that he had better go.

A young woman showed me her list of Patricia Cornwell books, written in the Correct Reading Order.

‘Here, here is my list. I have every book here in order, oh my God I am a sad case but here are the Patricia Cornwells. I am up to Body of Evidence and I need to read them in order so please please get them in, I just love them, I’m such a sad case, so hopeless. She went sadly out, looking very happy and drummed on the window and pointed to her list again to happily show me how sad she was.

David told me that the greatest art comes from the deepest wounds. That the artists don’t write about it, they write from it. They may not touch on a catastrophe at all, may not even mention the cost of suffering. But the finished piece, the novel, the writing you hold, that IS the price of their suffering and they pay it. We get to read the book and at the end find ourselves re gathered, that is if we allow it. Not better or fixed, but regathered, able to keep going. But it isn’t easy. To read Virginia Woolf means to also stare back into our own eye, undistracted. And nobody wants to do that.

I thanked him for his opinion and he advised me to read Helen Garner.

How Green was my Valley, Ethan Frome, The Great Gatsby, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept; all of these are in the library of bravehearts.

A small child told her mother she did not want to read Charlotte’s Web because it was too sad. And Margaret, when I asked her, said that sadness is necessary, like milk and eggs.



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