February 20, 2008
Meditations on the Melancholy State of Outdoor Writing
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
I would not have brought this up except for Chad Love's outburst in the most recent blog, and the number of people who agree with him. The danger in a geezer like myself criticizing the current state of affairs is that we tend to look at everything past as being better. But in this case, I think Mister Love has spoken the truth.
There are two differences between the past generation of outdoor writers and the upcoming one: We grew up before television, and we went to school before the collapse of the American educational system. All of the great writers such as Hill, Zern, O'Connor, Brister, et al, were prodigious readers, and they read everything, not just about the outdoors. Gene Hill was a great fan of Herbert Warren Wind, who for many years covered golf for The New Yorker. Ed Zern loved the work of humorist S.J. Perleman, who is probably forgotten now, and to whom Ed owed much of his style. Mr. W. Heavey of Virginia, who is as great a writer as any of these men (although no greater) is massively well read, and once launched into a diatribe on the writing style of Vladimir Nabokov, badly frightening all within earshot. I doubt if many people under 40 have read Nabokov.
The other problem is, of course, that our schools have crashed and burned. If what I see is any indication, very few college graduates can write so much as a page of correct English, much less write with any kind of style or interest. E-mailing and texting may well be the death of the written language. A friend of mine who taught college English for 30 years retired recently, and summed up her career thus:
"I never got to teach English at the college level. What I taught was remedial high school English."
And that, Chad, is why you see before you a vast wasteland (who used that phrase?) rather than the wonderland of yesteryear.