Introducing Barbiel Matthews-Saunders

Barbiel Matthews-Saunders is not only the daughter of author Jack Matthews,  she is also the illustrator for many of Jack Matthews ebooks by Personville Press … not to mention several print books. This multi-talented person is also a musician in Silent Lion, a Renaissance-inspired folk group — where she writes songs and plays the mandolin. She and her husband live in central Ohio and perform regularly at folk and Renaissance festivals around the country.

Barbiel and husband John Saunders

Since her father’s death, Barbiel has been actively involved in managing his literary estate. Personville Press publisher  Robert Nagle has been working closely with her to ensure that his literary titles are published in accordance with her father’s wishes. From time to time, she may post announcements on this blog. Stay tuned. [Note by Robert Nagle]
Continue reading

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Jack Matthews vs. Robert Coover

Here’s a small letter to the editor by Jack Matthews which  New York Times Book Review  published in 1992:

“To the Editor: Your hypotext on hypertext writ by Robert Coover is hyperbole in hypolex, though Coover’s sure a groover. What gurus of the new can’t see is how new fads betray us, for when you hustle entropy your progeny is chaos.


Once, in an interviews Matthews confessed,  “I’m still getting used to electric lights.”

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Letters to NYTBR “I am even a less a Gottliebian”

Here’s another random letter to the editor which Jack Matthews sent to the NYTBR in 1990. The essay he is responding to is long and actually quite good, despite Jack’s quibbles. Matthews has always had a deep interest in Continental philosophy, as can be attested in his hybrid biography of Schopenhauer and the Interview with the Sphinx play. 

Heidegger for Fun and Profit

Anthony Gottlieb’s essay ”Heidegger for Fun and Profit” (Jan. 7) had some fun in it, and maybe some profit. But when Mr. Gottlieb tried to play fast and easy with one of Heidegger’s premises, he provided some fun that does not profit his argument. This occurs when he dismisses the idea that language creates ”the world we inhabit,” since it is by means of vocabulary that we make distinctions and ”it is the distinctions we draw that make the world.” ”But there have been many objections to this,” Mr. Gottlieb writes, referring to ”all sorts of skills, from that of the chess master to that of a musician, [which] involve grasping distinctions that have no expression in language.”

Here Mr. Gottlieb has obviously drifted off into his own quiddity of what-is-not-ness, for in every way that matters chess and music are languages, revealing precisely those parts of the world that we know as chess and music. What else could they reveal? And what more eloquent surrebuttal of Mr. Gottlieb’s rebuttal could one cite?

Perhaps I should state for the record that while I am not a Heideggerian, I am even less a Gottliebian – which I couldn’t have known until I read this piece on Heidegger.


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Preface to “Soldier Boys” Short Story Ebook Collection (now published)

(Below is the preface for the Soldier Boys ebook.  The book page contains purchase links and discount coupon codes. Further Readings on Civil War Fiction — an annotated bibliography which appears in the ebook’s appendix — is also online.)

During his lifetime Jack Matthews (1925-2013) wrote hundreds of short stories and published seven short story collections. Some of the stories won awards, and all the story collections were positively reviewed by major publications. Why then has it taken 23 years for his next story collection to be released?

The answer is interesting and perhaps a little sad. After Jack Matthews retired from his university teaching job in the 1990s, he continued to write full time (and teach an occasional class). But aside from publishing a smattering of pieces in smaller literary magazines (and getting a few plays produced), Matthews had absolutely no luck getting any of his books published. It must have been frustrating, but Matthews rarely dwelled on the vagaries of the New York publishing market. He knew that short stories rarely sold well and lacked the cultural impact of a novel or screenplay. But he spent a significant portion of his retirement years writing them. Continue reading

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New Story Collection: Soldier Boys: Tales of the Civil War

Book Description

Over the decades, Jack Matthews collected memoirs and personal correspondence by actual U.S. Civil War soldiers. Eventually this interest led him to write a group of stories from the vantage point of teenage soldiers. The stories are less about specific Civil War battles or the horrors of war than about ordinary adventures and heartbreaks of young soldiers.

One soldier constantly composes new epitaphs for himself (much to the irritation of his comrades). A wounded soldier finds himself abandoned by his regiment and accidentally strikes up a friendship with a soldier from the other side. One soldier starts seeing ghostly visions of his dead brother and wants to know why. In the opening story, a courier is sent by headquarters to deliver an urgent (and tragic) message only to learn that the local commander has forbidden him to deliver it. In the final story, two soldiers have to hunt down and stop a hidden sharpshooter nicknamed “Old Mortality” and in so doing have to face (and understand) their fears. Told in an accessible, humorous and even old-fashioned way, these stories have a philosophical bent and give readers a sense of how 19th century young Americans must have pondered their world.

This 8th story collection (published posthumously) is the first Jack Matthews story collection to be published in 23 years.

This special ebook edition is illustrated by Barbiel Matthews-Sanders (the author’s daughter) and includes two introductory essays by Personville editor Robert Nagle. The author’s website ( ) also contains a study guide for teachers and an annotated bibliography of Civil War fiction prepared especially for this ebook. The volume includes 9 original stories published digitally for the first time, plus a preface, literary obituary and bibliography of Civil War fiction. The stories themselves are about 45,000 words.

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) published 20+ books and taught literature at Ohio University over four decades. His story collections were praised by authors such as Tim O’Brien and W.P. Kinsella and received positive reviews in places like New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. He is the author of Hanger Stout, Awake, a modern coming-of-age novel about a teenage boy’s obsession with cars (which was praised by Time Magazine and called by National Book Award winner William Stafford “one of the most neglected works of the 20th century.”) He has published multiple essays and several works of fiction about life in 19th century America.


Retail Price:  $4
Publication Date: April 5, 2016 (Version History)

Places to Buy:  | Smashwords | BN | Apple | Amazon US | UK |
Coupon Codes:  Don’t forget to get the Smashwords coupon code for significant discounts on Jack Matthews ebooks!

Note about Ebook Sample: Smashwords doesn’t let you view a free sample (but Amazon does). But the ebook’s preface is published in its entirety below. Also, smashwords has a 100% free ebook of Matthews stories.

Related Content:

Praise for Previous Story Collections by Jack Matthews

“Mr. Matthews is a master of prose conversation and deadpan charm. He is ironic, cool, and shrewd, and he writes a lucid prose.”

Tom O’Brien,  New York Times Book Review

“Jack Matthews proves once again that he is in the top one percent of American fiction writers. Witty, polished, wise, ironic, with deep insight into the dark recesses of the human heart, Matthews’ stories are often intense and humorous at the same time.”

W.P. Kinsella (Author of Shoeless Joe)

“Few contemporary writers can – or want to – compose stories in the narrow tunnel of the interior, the rutted trail of memory between mind and heart, sometimes shutting out other people as well as time and place and usual props. Matthews takes us there, carrying a bright light.”

Art Seidenbaum, Los Angeles Times

“Matthews stories are like friends from small towns: They are honest, warm, occasionally lyrical and as strange and idiosyncratic as the rest of us.”

Arthur Sabatini, Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Arthur and Adele: A Philosopher’s Strange, Complicated (and Tragic) Relationship with his Sister

(Here is an extended excerpt  from the recently published book, Schopenhauer’s Will: Das Testament by Jack Matthews about the life of  19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.  In this excerpt, Matthews reflects  on Arthur Schopenhauer’s  relationship with his sister Adele.)

The Lonely Life

If a philosopher cannot live philosophically, what good is his philosophy? Schopenhauer understood the ancient ideal of philosophy as the study of how to live wisely and well, and once argued that all great thinkers think concretely, their ideas rooted in perception, with their minds never dismissive of phenomena, and yet. always from a noumenal perspective.  In one sense, the ultimate triumph and validation of such thinking is our ability to govern our passions and live reasonably. And one manifestation of this, is our ability to budget our resources, live within our means, and thereby preside over our lives in ways unknown to those who are subject to the tyrannies of appetite and emotion.

One of the great practical decisions is where to live, and Schopenhauer deliberated over this with great care. After long and serious study, he narrowed his choice to Frankfort and Mannheim, then in English listed their advantages in a double column, as follows:

Healthy ClimateNice weather (in spite of intolerable heat)
Fine countrysideSilent & uncrowded
Comfort of a large cityMore politeness
Better reading room in libraryBetter foreign bookseller
Natural history museumThe Harmony & its library
Better plays, operas, concertsThe Heidelberg library
More EnglishmenGreater sociability
Better coffeehousesBetter baths in summer
No bad waterFewer thieves

Choosing Mannheim, he moved there, where his first decision was to join the Harmony Society. And yet, within a year, he realized he was unhappy. For some reason, he did not feel completely at home. He began to grow restless, dissatisfied. And shortly, the prospect of Frankfort, with its larger English population and better medical care and more congenial coffee houses won him over. It appears that his second choice was a judicious one, for he lived there the rest of his life.

In 1845 his peace of mind was once again disturbed when Adele visited him on her way south to Italy. She was travelling with her dearest friends, Ottilie von Goethe and Sybelle Mertens. It was obvious that in many ways she was living a miserable life, largely dependent upon those two friends simply for subsistence. But she did have friends, at least; which was more than her brother could claim.

She had come to think of herself as a poet, a creator of delicate verse, who would have prospered from her writing if she had been a man. Schopenhauer disagreed, of course, but managed to treat her with something like kindness, even when she read some of her wretched verses aloud one evening, pausing after every stanza to ask if her brother understood its meaning. Twice in speaking of their mother, she broke down and cried, which infuriated Schopenhauer; he was infuriated simply by the notion that anyone could feel pity for that hopeless bitch. But here, too, he somehow managed to behave himself, and the next morning when Adele and her two friends departed, brother and sister could almost have passed for friends.

In solitude be a multitude unto thyself.  — Tibullus

His Sister’s Will

This was the last time he would see Adele. In four years she was dead. Her will specified that her pathetic savings were to be distributed evenly between her two friend, while her brother, identified as the “bachelor philosopher who lives in Frankfort” was to receive her reading glasses (still smudged with her small fingerprints), a broken gold locket concealing their mother’s portrait, a soft-paper notebook containing thirty-one of her pastel drawings of birds, flowers, and the naked human foot, along with the following poem, written in her own hand, written in her own hand, on peach-tinted paper, and dedicated simply to “my brother, Arthur”:

By Adele Schopenhauer

The winds wail at evening. I can hear its broom
Sweeping the air in the alleyways at night.
I can hear it crying from my small, lonely room
Knowing each and every syllable of fright.

“Why is one born to suffer?” the heart asks;
“And why should we yearn for what can never be?”
In my little room I busy myself with tasks.
They quiet the mind, knowing the heart can’t see.

One day Kierkegaard would write that man is an egotist, thus essentially tragic and condemned to depair. He would also argue that God is beyond the reach of human reason. And he would say that Eternity matters, not suffering. Finally, he would conclude that all huamn understanding leads to either error or paradox. Upon all this, the shadow of Schopenhauer’s thought had fallen…

That person is happiest, whether king or peasant, who finds peace at home
— Goethe


Reproduced  from Schopenhauer’s Will: Das Testament by Jack Matthews,  with permission from  Nine Point Publishing. Related: See an extended book review.

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Book Review: Schopenhauer’s Will (Das Testament) by Jack Matthews

Title: Schopenhauer’s Will: Das Testament
Print Editions: $29.95 (Hardcover price as of October, 2015). 167 pages.  (Ebook not available).
Purchase Information: Publisher’s Site | | BN | Read an extended book excerpt
Summary: A genre-bending work consisting of a series of 2-3 page biographical vignettes (with some fictionalizing thrown in).
Recommended if you like:  Penelope Fitzgerald’s “Blue Flower” or compact biographies

What better person could there be to write a creative meditation and dramatization of Schopenhauer’s life than philosophical novelist Jack Matthews?

Arthur Schopenhauer is a strange complex man whose life story is as engrossing as his philosophies. Already two wonderful biographies have been written about him:  Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy by Rüdiger Safranski  and – more recently —   Schopenhauer: A Biography (2010) by David Cartwright. Both are scholarly works with ample footnotes and close reading of original sources. The earlier Safranski work — though organized  in rough chronological order — focuses  more on Schopenhauer’s philosophies and how life events  influenced these ideas. The Cartwright biography has a little bit of that too, but is more concerned with describing Schopenhauer’s relationship to  19th German society, how his family and friends influenced him and the  personal qualities (and quirks) which accounted for his preeminence among Continental philosophers. The Cartwright work makes sure to present a variety of different perspectives (delving more deeply for example into  the belletristic lifestyle of his mother).
Arthur Schopenhauer
Jack Matthew’s book on Schopenhauer  has different aims. Intended more for the general reader than the scholar, it’s compact by design and consists   of  2-3 page meditations on various episodes  in Schopenhauer’s life.  Every chunk has a title (“Hearing from Momma,” “And Now the Third Mountain,”  “Escape to Venice,” etc) and  ends with a relevant  quotation  from Schopenhauer or a contemporary. Generally these vignettes stay faithful to Schopenhauer’s biography; I compared Matthews’ treatment of certain events with the two Schopenhauer biographies and found them generally consistent. This work reads like a novel (indeed, it reminds me of Penelope Fitzgerald’s retelling of the life of Novalis in her  brilliant novel, Blue Flower). Continue reading

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Book Announcement: Schopenhauer’s Will by Jack Matthews

Arthur Schopenhauer I am happy to announce the publication of a new book by author Jack Matthews. It is being published by Nine Point Publishing.  This book was written a decade ago and arose out of a fascination with Schopenhauer’s life and philosophies. Schopenhauer’s philosophical writings are well-known for their gloomy outlook, but Matthews had always found his writing style so beautiful and witty that it more than made up for the philosopher’s ostensible pessimism. Matthews talked briefly about this project in a 2010 audio interview and in another 2009 interview alluded to the amusing fact that it was published first in translation by a Czech publisher before it was published in English.

With permission from Nine Point Publishing, this website features an  extended excerpt from the book titled, Arthur and Adele: A Philosopher’s Strange, Complicated (and Tragic) Relationship with his Sister.

I will be posting a review of this book  (update: here it is).  I just skimmed the first page or two and was admiring the lovely cover art by Barbiel Matthews-Saunders (Jack’s daughter). Another odd fact. A few years ago Matthews sent me an unpublished novella manuscript called “The Evil Sparrow Sings” which concerns an imaginary love triangle and philosophical dialogue involving Schopenhauer and Lord Byron. I’m sure this novella will be published eventually (probably sooner rather than later), and it’s an interesting read — not just for historical/philosophical reasons, but the story frame is about a modern production of this imaginary play and the creative tension existing between those who stage a play and the person who created it.

Publisher : Nine Point Publishing.
Info: 167 pages, Hardcover, (No ebook available)
First US Publication Date: June 15 2015.
Buy: From or directly from the publisher

Book Description:  The book is a mélange of biography, novel, and philosophical treatise, and it is basically constructed in narrative summary (structured in the form of a narrowed text, somewhat like poetry, although not, strictly speaking, for poetic reasons) often interrupted by a variety of quotations, most from the works of Schopenhauer himself, but many from the works of such Schopenhauerian figures as Napoleon, Byron, Gracian, Wittgenstein, Goethe, et al. Then there are frequent, narrative interludes, much like short stories but cumulative and thus serving the text. While invented, these narrative interludes are all based upon well-documented events in Schopenhauer’s life. The book’s tone often verges upon the ironic, frolicsome and light-hearted, designed to serve in counterpoint to the familiar stereotype of Schopenhauer as a relentlessly grim pessimist. But it is intrinsic to the book’s very conception that this tonal counterpoint is not as incompatible with the “real” Schopenhauer as that of his familiar image, because the enormous vitality of his style simply could not have grown out of the quagmire of utter despair, in that the voice of despair is silence, whereas there is enormous energy and brio in all that Schopenhauer wrote.

“Jack Matthews’ creative biography explores Schopenhauer’s days and works. Rarely has philosophy been so vital and interesting. Matthews transforms gray ponderings into the red blood of life and white bone of story. A man and his times spring quick from the page. Schopenhauer’s Will is beautifully written. The prose is clear, and the great philosopher’s ideas stretch taut and well–defined as muscles. The book delights and teaches, and as readers turn pages they will so turn through ideas that their lives will be enriched.”

– Sam Pickering (inspiration for John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society)

“What better person could there be to write a creative meditation and dramatization of Schopenhauer’s life than philosophical novelist Jack Matthews?… this work reads like a novel (indeed, it reminds me of Penelope Fitzgerald’s retelling of the life of Novalis in her  brilliant novel, Blue Flower)… The best thing about Schopenhauer’s Will is that it balances the need to convey Schopenhauer’s ideas with Matthews’ need to tell a good story;  it’s just as much a book about dog walking as it is about one man’s  gloomy  philosophies.”  (Robert Nagle’s Book Review: Schopenhauer’s Will (Das Testament) by Jack Matthews)


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Site/Publishing Odds and Ends

Some news. First,  I just posted the book page for Schopenhauer’s Will. It was published 2 weeks ago. I have a review copy and will be reviewing it soon.  It is only available in hardcover.

I’m still working on the Soldier Boys short story collection ebook.  I’m only finished — though official publication date will probably be in about a month or two. But certainly before September.

I noticed that the free ebook no longer seems to be free on Amazon. Now they are charging 99 cents for it. The web page for the free ebook will always contain a free link, so be sure to check that.  Three Times Time is a good mini-collection, but you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

In related news, Personville Press will start distributing ebooks through Smashwords. In addition to providing more promotional opportunities than might, it might be easier to publish free stuff there. Stay tuned!

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10 Books to Better Understand America (by Author Jack Matthews)

Two years ago Matthews created  this list, writing, “Gordon Graham, founder & erstwhile editor of the periodical LOGOS in the UK asked me to list 10 books I’d recommend to educated, English-speaking foreigners to understand the US, so I happily obliged & am attaching my list, for I managed to sneak in HANGER as one of those books. (In token modesty I backed out at the last minute & substituted Michael Connelly’s THE LAST COYOTE for HANGER, thinking Connelly’s book would help balance the east-of-the-Mississippi character & old-fashioned focus of the other 9, but Gordon wanted me to keep HANGER in, so I of course agreed).”


I’ve found this an interesting challenge, perhaps in one way more interesting than most would have found it, because I’ve personally experienced little of the greater world, leading a rather provincial existence, most of it in the wooded hills of southeastern Ohio. Obviously, I could never pass for a cosmopolite.

As for the challenge, I’ve tried to keep in mind Gordon Graham’s caution about not just listing books we love, but books that are important revelations of what it is to be “American” (the quotation marks are necessary, for the word is exasperatingly elusive, precisely as it is meaningful). Still, I’ve tried to list those that I love among those that are informative, having my cake and eating it, too – in a manner of speaking..


An inevitable choice and a beautiful book, although a seriously flawed novel (strictly speaking, PUDD’NHEAD WILSON is better as a novel). Still, HUCKLEBERRY FINN is on just about everybody’s list of the best whatevers, and can even inspire people to such insipidities as Harold Bloom referring to one of the paragraphs as the most beautiful paragraph in the language. Unutterably silly, to be sure; but his silliness does convey something of HB’s mindless enthusiasm.

Hemingway once famously said that all American novels grew out of HUCKLEBERRY FINN, but elsewhere he said that war was the only subject worthy of a writer. Of course, he said a lot of things, and it would be curmudgeonly for us to insist too seriously upon his making sense whenever he opened his mouth.

As for HUCK FINN’s inclusion in this list, I would prefer qualifying it by listing LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI in its place – making this a dual listing and perhaps not playing the game. Still, LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI seems to me Mark Twain consistently at his very best. The book is lyrical, witty and informative. And it teems with delightful definitions (e.g., An “Alligator Pilot is a man who can smell alligators from as far away as a Christian can smell whiskey.”


In this short, complex novel, Eudora Welty has created a world that is paradoxically regional (“southern”), even clannish, and yet generically “American” – even universal.Eudora-Welty

Most of the action is in the deep south and it follows the death of old Judge McKelva (the “optimist”), and is focused upon his daughter, Laurel, who is the novel’s protagonist, as the title proclaims. After he dies, Laurel’s and Fay’s (his young 2nd wife’s) family go about revealing themselves and creating scenes of delicious comic confusion.. One of the novel’s motifs consists of birds, and as one of the women is expressing her disapproval of Fay (who is, indeed, a superlatively nasty specimen), she is interrupted: “Singing over her words, the mockingbird poured out his voice without stopping.”

Indeed, throughout the novel, the birds constitute a strange voiceless Chorus, creating a delicate thread of ironic symbolism, in which near the end of the novel, a bird is even trapped in the dead man’s house with Laurel (the trapped bird symbolizing bad luck, of course), causing her to say, “Birds fly toward light – I’m sure I’ve been told.” Just as good novels try to work their intricate ways toward the light.

This is a beautiful novel, justly celebrated; and it will not easily reveal its deeper secrets, nor will those secrets entirely fade from a reader’s mind.

 JOURNALS, Ralph Waldo Emerson

A repository of the wide-ranging thoughts of a man who was once known as “the wisest American” – a term that is not as foolish as many such superlatives. These journals, ostensibly written for himself, teem with observations that open up parts of the world, and that world is Emerson’s New England as well as . . . well, America and the World!

Consider these short samples: “Some play at chess, some at cards, some at the Stock Exchange. I prefer to play at Cause and Effect”; “Our moods do not believe in each other”; “Poets learn to relieve themselves of misery by shoveling it into poems” (exquisitely appropriate for the “confessional poets” of the 20th century), and, finally, this gem: ”Old men are drunk with time.”

The journals are available in a 10- volume edition, but the one volume edition, edited by Bliss Perry, provides a useful introduction.

 THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald

How could Fitzgerald’s magical novel not be on this list? Jay Gatsby is a symbol of how everyone in America can become a king. Maybe. Sort of. (“Maybe” and “sort of” are necessary qualifications, of course, relating to virtually all that is problematic and human.)

In a way, and for many, GATSBY can be elected to that pinnacle of “the great American novel” – which is an unfortunate label, but to the extent that it makes any kind of sense, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece would make a strong bid for the job.


No matter how the word is defined, Hemingway was just about as “American” as a writer could ever be, and yet most of the places celebrated in his books are European or African. In this collection of the Nick Adams stories, however – culled from his other story collections and published after his death – the American scene is a vivid and unmistakable presence, especially Michigan, where much of Hemingway’s youth was spent.

The American love of nature and the “wide open spaces” is both a distinguishing American trait and an inheritance of our British origins; in many ways, it can be said that the Brits invented the love of nature as we know it, but, of course, we have expanded and changed it in response to the unique geography of our land..

Some of the stories gathered in this volume are familiar to all who know Hemingway’s work (e.g., “The Killers”; “In Another Country”; “Big Two-Hearted River”). But there are lesser-known short pieces here worth reading, and they all to some extent savor of the land they’re in, as well as being about Nick Adams, who is of course Hemingway himself – as well as of course not.

 KITTY FOYLE, Christopher Morley

KittyFoylePOSTER-02This is perhaps the most successful novel of one of the great, and greatly neglected, American writers of the 20th century, and it is simply a delight to read. It was so popular that a movie was made from it, starring Ginger Rogers, who for her starring in it, won an Oscar as best actress. (The novel is much better than the film, of course.)

In my reading of what I consider the worthiest books, I take notes on a sheet of paper that I fold into their pages, and if I find the book especially interesting, my notes may number as many as 50 or 60; but my notes for KITTY FOYLE number 72.

To understand the book, one must first realize that it was published in 1939, near the end of the Great Depression in America. Kitty is a “working girl” in Philadelphia, and she tells her own delightful and richly thoughtful story. And her voice throughout, along with her many obiter dicta (in a manner of speaking) are wise and lovably sensitive.

Indeed, her casual observations are often exquisite; consider these two, which appear on the same page: she’s feeling her drinks and says, “I was like somebody walking in somebody else’s sleep.” And then later, on the same page, she says: “It wasn’t anybody’s fault; what is?”

 THE WORLD OVER, Edith Wharton

This collection of Edith Wharton’s stories contains her masterpiece, “Roman Fever” – whose action takes place in Rome, as its title proclaims, and yet the story is as “American” as baseball and the unassisted double play.

The story opens with two wealthy, middle-aged American ladies standing together as they enjoy the view of Rome from the terrace of a restaurant. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley have been lifelong acquaintances, if not exactly friends, for it has simply been their destiny that has woven their lives together.

What happens in this story is too good to relate, but let it suffice to say that “Roman Fever” is a splendidly developed Contest story that the reader will not soon forget.

And, of course, the values of these two women, including the brand of snobbery that decorates the arena of their contest, are all distinctly “American”.


H_l_menckenHere, it’s best to quote from Mencken’s Preface to the First Edition:“[This book’s] chief excuse is its human interest, for it prods deeply into national idiosyncrasies and ways of mind, and that sort of prodding is always entertaining.  I am thus neither teacher, nor prophet, nor reformer, but merely inquirer.”

Also, Mencken’s delightful HAPPY DAYS says a lot about American life as he remembered it over a century ago. But it no doubt remains much the same, although with our hypocrisies dressed in different clothing. Then, too, one should mention Mencken’s delightfully acerbic essays in his PREJUDICES series.


Authoritatively and perceptively written about a truly extraordinary man, a general with an unmistakable flamboyance and histrionic flair. Manchester is often considered one of the best biographers of our time. (I also very much enjoyed his THE LAST LION, about Churchill; but of course that doesn’t belong here, in spite of WC’s American mama.)

As for AMERICAN CAESAR: it is splendidly researched, vividly written and worthy of its subject.


At the risk of disgusting those who realize that my final choice may be rooted in nothing more than vanity and ignorance, I’ll list HANGER – crossing the line of taboo and violating all the proprieties in sight. Nevertheless, the novel has been praised for its grasp of the American idiom, and so I’ll risk listing it here.

It’s a first-person narrative by Hanger Stout, an Ohio teenager in the 60s, who doesn’t know a past participle from a cephalopod, but he has a good heart and in his own way, a clear head. He works in a filling station back in the days when attendants were hired to fill customers’ gas tanks. Hanger gains his nickname by his ability to hang by his hands longer than just about anybody else (a mild spoof on America’s obsession with athletics here), which threatens to make him, well, famous. Hanger is gentle, undemanding, quasi-illiterate and something of a funny saint.

Hiram Haydn, my editor at Harcourt Brace, said that Hanger was “all of us before we ate the apple.” Eudora Welty was one of many good people who praised the novel, and William Stafford, NBA-Award poet, listed it as his only title in an ANTAEUS series on “Neglected Books Of The 20th Century”.(With luck, it might become one of the neglected books of the millennium. Dare I aim so high?)

Jack Matthews (1925-2013) is the author of philosophical fiction. He has published over 20 titles, and his next collection of short stories, Soldier Boys will be published by Personville Press in April, 2014.  In 2011   Etruscan Press published Jack Matthews’s latest novel, THE GAMBLER’S NEPHEW.




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