Some friends dropped by the other day with a book for me to read, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Published in 1937 by a Zora Neal Huston, the tribute on the cover was written by Alice Walker: There is no book more important to me than this one.
I’d never heard of the author so, being curious, I did a little checking on the book’s history. The work never won an award nor could I find evidence that ever appeared on the New York Times best seller list. Oprah Winfrey produced a film for television based on the novel in 2005 which starred Halle Berry. But that’s all the information I could find. And so, with that inauspicious beginning, I sat down to scan a few pages. From her first words I was hooked:
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
To discover such a good book late in Iife left me feeling sheepish. How could I have missed this one? How many other books waited to be discovered in my short life? As I sat thinking, I remembered forgotten works I had already stumbled across. Margery Sharp, for example. She was the author of 26 adult novels and 14 children’s stories, but if she’s remembered at all, it’s for one set of characters and that’s thanks to Walt Disney’s The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. As for the sisters, Mrs. G. R. Alder and C. M. Livingston, their book, By Way of the Wilderness was translated into many languages and read across the globe. Yet who reads their stories now? Or Daphne de Maurier? Her works, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca are among my favorites; yet mention her name to a millennial and I get a blank stare.
In sonnet 18, Shakespeare paid tribute to art’s power to bestow immortality: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, [the sonnet] and this gives life to thee. But Shakespeare was too optimistic, I think. Like ships held back by the tide, many good books eventually set sail and are never heard from again. No one knows why.
(Originally published 6/12/14)
(Courtesy of bmionline.com)