In a recent discussion I was asked what piece of literature that I first recollected as being superior. A couple of provisos here: I’ve got a few decades to reach back and memory may not be as sharp as it once was, and as a child I didn’t have a ton of reading choices. (There were no local bookstores, for which we didn’t have money anyway, and I had to be driven to get to a library.) The first piece of writing that, apart from the Bible, I came up with was Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” It’s still my favorite short story. Today is Poe’s birthday. While not a national holiday, it is a literary one. Poe was one of the early experimenters in trying to make a living from his pen alone. His fame was primarily posthumous.
I don’t recall how I learned about Poe. I know that I picked up a book of his stories at Woolworth’s in Oil City (you see what I mean by no bookstores) for something like a quarter. It was a cheap, large-print edition with a strange selection of stories, but the first one was Usher. Such an impact was rare in my young literary experience. Many years later, riding a horse as a counselor at horse camp, the initial scene of Usher was the one that kept coming to my mind although I hadn’t read the story for a very long time. I ended up writing one of my first high school English papers on Poe. By this time I had a good library I could access, even if I couldn’t drive myself there. While sometimes submerged for years at a time, my appreciation for Poe always eventually resurfaces.
For anyone who’s read Nightmares with the Bible the appreciation of Poe should be obvious. One of the peer reviewers suggested I should remove the Poe references since he didn’t write about demons. Struggling against demons, to my way of thinking, counts. In fact, Poe is largely the thread that holds the book together. I’m aware that at its price point the book will be little read. Still, having a literary tribute must be a form of consolation. Mine is but one of many, I know. As we stand on the cusp of an unknown future, hoping the maelstrom is truly behind us, I gladly acknowledge that Poe has helped me get this far. And like the Raven, let us hope it is truly nevermore.
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