Don't Save Anything

To write! What a marvelous thing!” Paul Léautaud

Not long after James Salter died, his wife began rummaging through the boxes of articles and essays he had written. While most had been published in magazines and newspapers, they had never been collected in one volume. However, the best of them have now been brought together in his Don't Save Anything: Uncollected Essays, Articles, and Profiles, Reviews. Here are passages from a few of them:

On Other Writers

The lesson in the books of Graham Greene is the great lesson of the times: one must take sides.

He interviewed Nabokov at a hotel in Switzerland “amid tables spread with white cloth and silver as if for dinners before the war, an apt setting for a man who didn’t embrace the modern world.”

On Paris
The new La Coupole has everything the earlier one had—appearance location—everything except one small detail, the soul.

On Venice
Off to Torcello for lunch jolting across the wide lagoon the wind blowing the dark green water to whiteness past San Michele with its brick walls the island on which Stravinsky and Diaghilev lay buried—the real and the false glory one moving past the other though there are times when one cannot tell which is which.

On Mountain Climbing

We will all die and be forgotten but there is in climbing a mythic element that draws one on. Half Dome El Capitan the Dru: these are names we have given to things that will be here almost as long as the earth itself.

On Writing
You cannot teach someone to write any more than you can teach them to be interesting.

The act of writing, though often tedious, can produce extraordinary pleasure.

Describe he is continually reminding himself describe.

The cynics say that if you do not write for money you are a dabbler or a fool, but this is not true. To see one’s work in print is the real desire, to have it read. In the end writing is like a prison an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude the thoughts the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you for the moment understand and with your whole heart want to believe.

Latent in me, I suppose, there was always the belief that writing was greater than other things, or at least would prove to be greater in the end. Call it a delusion if you like, but within me was an insistence that whatever we did, the things that were said, the dawns, the cities, the lives, all of it had to be drawn together, made into pages, or it was in danger of not existing, of never having been. There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.

There is something called the true life, which I cannot describe and which perhaps varies as one sees it from different angles and at different times. At one point it is travel, at another a certain woman, at another a house somewhere with a view you will worship till you die. It is a life apart from money and to the side of ambition, a life lived in one way or another for beauty. It does not last indefinitely, but the survivors are usually not poorer for it.”


Linda said...

We owe a debt to Salter's wife!

I especially like Salter's comments on writing. Most of all: "only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real." That seems to me to be so true, but I don't quite know why. Perhaps because we are linguistic beings. I read somewhere that language is not one of man's possessions in the world, but on it depends the fact that man has a world at all. I think that must be what Salter understood. It must be what compels some of us to write.

Richard Katzev said...

Thank you, Mrs. Salter (Kay Eldridge).

For me, the act of writing is largely spontaneous. I ponder, have an idea, try to clarify it by writing. It's very satisfying.

And it is also permanent in the books I write and for a while whatever I write on the Web. The books are in a few libraries and that also pleases me. So when I'm gone, the books are still there. Nice to think of that.

And both them and I will be remembered for a while and in due course both will be forgotten. And it will be as if I never existed, which isn't the least bit important.

So it goes.

Thanks for your comment, Linda

Linda said...

Indeed - so will it go with all of us.

I am glad I have your books. What you say in them resonates with me.

Richard Katzev said...

Thank you, Linda. It's especially nice to hear that from you. Richard