Page 142 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Eugene O ’Neill and W illa Cather,
among others. But Angoff wasn’t really happy. How he found
his metier and his life work is best revealed by the author him­
self.
“Late one afternoon, Mencken and I were walking down
Fifth Avenue, toward the Algonquin Hotel, on West 44th Street,
where he always stayed when in New York. Out of the pro­
verbial blue G. B. Stern’s book,
The Matriarch
, came up for
discussion. Mencken asked me what I thought of it. I said I
d idn ’t like it. Whereupon Mencken assumed his role of father-
down with me. ‘Now, Angoff, tha t’s no way to talk about a
book that the chairman of the Board of Judges of the Book-of-
the-Month Club thinks is a work of superlative worth or some­
thing of the sort.’
“I repeated tha t I d idn’t like the book. ‘You’re stubborn and
you were poorly brought up ,’ Mencken said.
“I t ’s wonderful being young. One can afford to be honest. I
disagreed with Mencken, and thus ran the risk of being fired,
bu t this possibility d idn ’t occur to me. If I thought of i t at all,
I probably d idn ’t worry too much. I could get another job.
When one gets older, one gets more ‘sensible,’ more cautious,
more ‘reasonable,’ which is to say, hypocritical.
“Again I said I d idn ’t like the book. ‘Tell my why,’ he said.
“I said, the book is about a Jewish grandmother. Stern writes
about her Jewish grandmother condescendingly, at best like
someone who has an A.M. in Social Work, and is not emotionally
involved in a particular woman. The grandmother in her book
is not
her
grandmother, bu t just another case.
“ ‘How do you know so much about Jewish grandmothers?’
Mencken asked.
“I know two of them on my mother’s side, a grandmother
and a great-grandmother. They’re both dead now, bu t I knew
them quite well when I was a boy in Boston.
“ ‘So why don’t you writ about them yourself?’ Mencken said.
“Tha t 's an idea,’ I said, somewhat startled by the suggestion.
T h a t moment I became a writer of Jewish fiction. T h e same
night I wrote ‘Alte Bobbe.’ I was amazed and delighted tha t
the story, so to speak, wrote itself. I tried to sell i t to Jewish
periodicals. Not one of them would have it, so I decided to
try the non-Jewish periodicals, and the first one I sent it to,
Tanager,
published in Iowa, took it. Th is acceptance confirmed