Antaeus magazine’s “Neglected Books of the 20th Century”

Jack Matthews was proud to learn that his early novella Hanger Stout, Awake was listed by Antaeus magazine as one of the “Neglected Books of the 20th century.” Personally, I think some of his later novels are more remarkable — especially the satirical novel, Sassafras and one of his last works,  Gambler’s Nephew

About a year ago I came across a great site which lists previously published lists of book recommendations, and there I found the Antaeus list.  It also contains two other lists I know and love from David Madden’s  Rediscoveries 1 and Rediscoveries 2,  . In Rediscoveries 1, Jack Matthews himself wrote a 2 page recommendation for  South Wind by Norman Douglas which is downloadable for free from Project Gutenberg. Ok, the list is below.  Continue reading

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New (old) audio, New (old) photos by Jack Matthews

I first got acquainted with author Jack Matthews by stumbling upon an audio interview he did with Don Swaim in 1984. Swaim used to run a literary interview show on CBS radio; later Swaim released the extended interviews with these authors to Ohio University for a WiredforBooks site. Unfortunately, the site was not well maintained (someone even forgot to pay the annual domain cost!), so the audio interviews have been offline for a longer-than-expected time.  Eventually the site will be fully restored, but in the meantime, I want to make available a copy of the audio files:

  • 1984 interview mp3. 25 minutes. Matthews talks about Hanger Stout Awake, book collecting, growing up in Ohio, teaching college students, Sassafras.
  • Jack Matthews and Don Swaim discuss the life and writings of Ambrose Bierce (in mp3 format). (Mirrored audio here).  recorded Oct. 9, 2001, WOUB, Athens, Ohio  46 minutes.
  • Note that the multimedia page of this site also has  other multimedia, including an audio interview I did in 2010.

Here are two historic images of Jack Matthews from the university archives

Update: Ouch! It looks as though Ohio University does not allow these images to be posted here, so I had to remove them. The link still works though (for now).

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Story Collection: Abruptions: 3 Minute Stories to Awaken the Mind

Book Description

During the last decade of his life, author Jack Matthews wrote a series of 1-2 page prose pieces (which he dubbed “Abruptions” or “very short stories that end abruptly”).

Matthews had already published over 20 books of fiction with an astonishing variety of characters and plots. This last volume hints at a lot of characters and plots without trying to resolve them.

Each abruption — which rarely takes more than 5 minutes to read — sheds light on something unexpected, whether it be a character’s view on life or the reader’s notions of how the world ought to work.

Many episodes read like contemporary fables or sketches of quirky people from small midwest towns. Two older women have a long-running feud about what flowers should go on the fence between their houses. An actor makes a living out of playing the bad Nazi in movies. An owner of a movie studio in the 1930s throws out any audience member who misbehaves during a movie. An office worker is distracted by a pretty woman washing the outside windows.

Other stories sound like wild fairy tales. What if one superintelligent Siamese twin were conjoined with an idiot brother? What if a witch’s curse caused every third word uttered by a person to go unsaid? What if a woman has terrifying dreams about a missing watch?

Some stories simply ponder the imponderable. Why do certain memories persist or reappear? Why do elderly people become set in their ways? Why do people become blind to certain things?

Matthews explains in the book’s preface that abruptions “can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry.” These stories are a fitting coda for Matthew’s career as a storyteller. As deep and dark as these abruptions can become, they are told with simple language, flashes of humor and a sage’s sense of wonder and irony.

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  Eudora Welty  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:  $2.25
Publication Date: October 16, 2017 (Version History)

“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.


Preface by the Author

“Abruptions”  are  very short stories that end abruptly. While they are known by more familiar labels (e.g., “Flash Fiction” and “Sudden Fiction”), I like the in-your-face brusqueness of the word “abruptions.” Like parables, they seem to be almost all point, lacking the more comprehensive “pointedness” that enriches and complicates longer narratives. As abruptions, they can be conveniently and thoughtlessly dismissed as mere anecdotes – which, in a way they are, although there is nothing “mere” about them, for they can penetrate in ways not accessible through the longer, leisurely accounts of more conventional narratives.

Essential to their depth is their conciseness. By what is both presented and judiciously excluded, abruptions can reach down to dimensions of wonder and speculation that are commonly thought to be the proper domain of poetry. The depth to which they can reach is always and to some extent a function of what is both their genius as a form and their most obvious limitation, their brevity. Nevertheless, it is the narrow and pointed instrument that penetrates deepest.

Because of our instinct for a telling taxonomy, we are nagged by the question of whether abruptions are nothing more than what we are tempted to view contemptuously as, say, key situations or story ideas rather than finished stories – which is to say, the real thing. To the extent that no quality can exist without quantity, it follows that if the latter is diminished, the former is necessarily affected, and in many contexts it is affected negatively.

So the question of what definition would best fit “abruptions” is as natural as it will eventually prove irrelevant. While they may seem to be nothing more than mutilated or apprentice narratives, they are nevertheless real stories in certain important ways, their brevity notwithstanding. Often, in a well-designed abruption, what might appear to be an amputation – a gratuitous chopping off of a story’s end -is actually the final, sudden emergence of a latent theme in the story, fulfilling a pattern that has been at work beneath the surface machinery that drives the plot.

Abruptions can be seen as constituting a literary sub-genre, for they are as distinct from the classic short story as haikus from sonnets. And as already argued, their brevity is suggestive in ways incompatible with more conventional closures, and some form of suggestiveness is essential to all narrative – especially short stories, and within that division, the still more intensified class of abruptions.

Agonizing over whether abruptions are “really” stories or not isn’t worth the effort: call them “lawn mowers” or “dental floss” if you want – but think of them as lenses focusing larger, more complex ideas or conceits. And the truism that great literature is dependent upon great readers could not be better exemplified than in a readerly interaction with a well-designed abruption, for its very abruptness presents a unique challenge.

So I hereby challenge you and welcome you to the game.

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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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