Friday, August 28, 2009

Still Digesting

In a desperate attempt to increase the readership of my blog I have taken to reading it assiduously myself. Reading my own prose as though it were that of someone else is not entirely a novel experience. The combination of a memory softened by longevity plus the longevity itself—I have been publishing stuff of one kind or another for half a century now—has on occasion led to the following weird experience. I am reading some ancient academic essay, and it begins to seem vaguely familiar. Furthermore I agree with the central idea—pretty rare. Could it be that I have read it before without remembering it? Answer: No. I wrote it before without remembering it.

I could well remember writing “Difficult to Digest”. After all, I wrote it only eight days ago. But I felt suddenly uncertain about one of the claims I had made, concerning Sender Galin’s pamphlet The Truth About Reader’s Digest.

"Garlin's pamphlet has become a rare item,” I wrote, “…so the dime pamphlet now goes for at least twenty-five bucks when you can find it.” Was that really true? Perhaps the market had changed since I had to shell out big bucks to get a second copy, having mislaid a first copy (still missing in action) somewhere on my desk. I immediately checked with the indispensable There were, world-wide, three copies of the Garlin pamphlet available. The first was priced as I supposed it would be in the thirty-dollar range. A single bookseller, Juniper Books in Boulder CO, however, had two copies at the incredible low price of $7.50 each! Now I was aware—and indeed I had reported both in The Anti-Communist Manifestos and in “Difficult to Digest”—that Mr. Garlin spent the last years of his life in or around Boulder CO. I immediately speculated that these two copies probably were a part of the nachlass of old Sender Garlin himself, and that Juniper Books was not entirely aware of the value of the treasures for which they had become brokers.

I snapped them up as fast as my large fingers could beat out the appropriate key-strokes, and they have just arrived. My proclivity toward what my wife calls “excess” was richly rewarded. In the first place I discover that there were at least four different printings of the pamphlet in 1943, of which I now own three. (Indeed, I may own the fourth as well, if only I can find it.) Better yet, one of these copies is signed by the author: “To a poetic organizer, Martha Millet [/] Sender Garlin”.

I don’t know, of course, whether he ever actually presented Ms. Millet with the book, or why she returned it to him if he had done so. Martha Millet was a minor Communist poet of the 1930s and 40s. Garlin uses the word "organizer" as a technical term. The job of an "organizer" was to assemble a Party cell or prepare the "masses" for political action. When the Communists disappeared, "Party organizers" were replaced by "community organizers". This is simply an etymological curiosity, not a political statement concerning any particular president of the United States. I presume that the phrase "poetical organizer" is itself somewhat poetical. One of Millet's poems (“Women of Spain”) is still to be found in anthologies of literature dealing with the Spanish Civil War. She was also one of the radical poets anthologized in a once-celebrated book entitled Seven Poets in Search of an Answer. These seven are nowadays pretty obscure. They included Alfred Kreymborg, whose testimony—along with that of other eminent Communists like the artist Rockwell Kent and Congressman Vito Marcantonio-- adorns the back of the other printing of the pamphlet I just bought. Kreymbourg pulls out all the stops in praising The Truth About Reader’s Digest. “One of the most important documents of the age. Every American should read it.” Nobody ever said that about An Introduction to the Franciscan Literature of the Middle Ages! The name of a third of the seven poets may ring a bell with some of my readers: Joy Davidman. If you don’t recognize the name, think “Mrs. C. S. Lewis”. Yes, Lewis's second Joy, supplementing the more spiritual version of of his pre-marital autobiography, Surprised by Joy! Scholarly investigations, like other mysteries of life, have the fascinating habit of turning back upon themselves. If you want to see what I mean, check out the “Recent Writing” section on the web-site.


  1. Your ever growing readership would remind you that on a screen a blank line between paragraphs is much to be preferred over an indentation. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for the tip, but I have encountered some kind of glitch that is keeping me from repairing the typography....I'll keep trying.

  3. There were three copies of The Truth About Reader’s Digest available when you searched You bought two but passed on the third. Could it be that you passed up the fleeting opportunity to corner the world market at the average price of $15 per copy ($7.50 + $7.50 + $30 / 3)? These three, together with the one you have and the one you think you might have, probably constitute something near a global monopoly. By the way, I’ve seen your desk and I don’t think you should give up on eventually finding the other copy of The Truth About Reader’s Digest where it is probably in the happy company of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, the “Q” document, and Jimmy Hoffa.

  4. I have experienced the same feeling about my previous writings, having gone back for a look at my senior thesis (Mystical Themes in Medieval Lyric Poetry). I remember thinking, "Huh, I used to know this stuff? Really?)

  5. How does one go about locating and reading an ancient academic essay without ever noting who the author is (or was) is what I would like to know. The scary thing is that I'm only a bit more than half your age, and I have already done the same thing with various unbylined chunks of text found lurking in the recesses of my hard drive. Sometimes it is only several paragraphs in that I find enough details to stun myself into the awareness that I wrote them.

    As for the Garlin, as long as you continue to purchase all available sub-twenty-five-dollar copies, the pamphlet will of course continue to be "rare" and "at least twenty-five bucks," so you are doing a great job of shoring up that factoid.

    --a reluctant putative future executor

  6. As a former blogger (recently quit for professional reasons, which leaves me to torment my Facebook friends), I can say: frequency of posting begets frequency of visits, both for repeats and newcomers... (Or, failing that, a consistent publishing schedule -- if it's known that the new posts come every Friday, for instance...)

  7. I don`t know much about Sender Garlin, but I can cast light on the pamphlet signed to Martha Millet which apparently found it`s way back to him. She became Martha Millet Garlin in 1980 and the two set up home together in Boulder, which I think was her home town.

    I know little about the Garlins - I understand that later in life Garlin was associated with Gil Green, who I think of as allied to reformers within the CPUSA (pro-Browder, pro-Gorbachev) - but before that I suspect Garlin was something of a hard-line Stalinist.

    Maybe someone can enlighten me ?