April 12, 2007
One of the ways that I find books I am looking for is to post want lists on sites such as Abebooks.com and Biblio.com. This generates daily emails to me with lists of books, most of which I don’t want or already own. Every once in a while, however, one of these notification emails leads me somewhere completely new and unexpected. Earlier this week, for instance, Biblio.com sent me a list of books by or about W.G. Sebald that had just been added to their website by some of their many member booksellers. Halfway down the list was this brief and abbreviated bookseller’s listing for a used paperback:
“Solomon, Andrew. Noonday Demon, The. London, United Kingdom: Vintage, 2002. ‘As wide-ranging as it is incisive, this astonishing work is a testimony both to the mute …”
What did this book have to do with Sebald? Clicking on the link took me to the offering by an Australian bookseller, where I learned that Sebald had provided a blurb for the “Advance Praise” page at the front of the book.
Andrew Solomon is a widely respected writer and novelist, whose work I had seen in the New York Times Magazine. His book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (NY: Scribner, 2001) won a 2001 National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist the following year.
The blurb provided by Sebald riffs on the title of Freud’s 1930 book Civilization and its Discontents: “The Noonday Demon explores the subterranean realms of an illness which is on the point of becoming endemic, and which more than anything else mirrors the present state of our civilization and its profound discontents. As wide-ranging as it is incisive, this astonishing work is a testimony both to the muted suffering of millions and to the great courage it must have taken the author to set his mind against it.”
– W.G. Sebald, author of The Emigrants
The title phrase, by the way, originates in Psalms 91:5-6 (“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”) When Solomon mentions earlier ways by which depression was referred to, including melancholia, a possible link to Sebald came to mind. Since the appearance of The Emigrants in 1996, Sebald had been the one contemporary writer inextricably linked with the arcane term melancholia. (Note that the only work attributed to Sebald in this blurb is The Emigrants, even though he had published several other important works by 2001.) I can imagine that the mere use of the world melancholy triggered the connection to Sebald as a candidate to provide “advance praise” for Solomon’s book. The two authors shared one other connection, as well: the Wylie Agency, a prominent New York and London literary agency.