Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”

Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” contains everything Hemingway left out of “The Sun Also Rises,” which had left Ernest with the tincture of  a refined sentiment. That is one difference between the Jazz Age and the Great Depression. Turned out, we didn’t always have Paris; most of us never had it. From page 1 of Miller: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

I don’t remember when I first read “Tropic of Cancer,” probably ’68 or ’69. From my notes written on the back of the last page and inside the back book cover:

art sing 1
Liby 36
whore – Germaine 40-43
Popini 58
artist 60
America 86
change 87-90
room dream 114-116
woman want 117 (45, 26)
pimp & whore 143-144
Matisse 146-149
Russia America 154
working with boss 158
mona 160-166 (smile)
Paris 162-188
book 163
moon 167
paragraph (style) 167, 202, 216
converse 171
army 200
Whitman 216
gold standard 219
writer 224
what’s in the hole 225
earth 225, 226
idols 228
task of artist 228
inhuman 230
art 229-280
human 231-259 (view on goodreads)

“Tropic of Cancer” was first published in France, 1934, Obelisk Press.
My edition is First Black Cat Edition 1961 Fifteenth Printing B-10, $1.25.
Introduction c 1959 by Karl Shapiro first appeared in “Two Cities” Paris, France.
Preface by Anais Nin, 1934.
No ISBN appears in the book, but the number “394-17760-6” appears on the bottom right of back cover.

Yes, trying to do something with Goodreads for the new year. I’ll be putting up short reviews like the one above from some of my old reads.

Henry Miller: more on reading influences and touching again on the reading crisis

One can almost never go wrong with a New Directions Book. We’ve a stack on the shelves, including, among our favorites, Williams Carlos Williams’s “Selected Poems,” (NDP131); Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind (NDB74); Pound’s “Selected Poems,” (NDP66); Djuna Barnes’s “Nightwood,” (NDP98); Borges’s “Labyrinths,” (NDP186);  Nathanael West’s “Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust,” (NDP125).

One NDB we haven’t look at in some time but that came to mind when thinking of reading influences is Henry Miller’s “The Books in My Life,” (NDP280). The subject isn’t books though as much as it is Henry Miller, which is fine with us. He makes this clear early in his preface: “The purpose of this book…is to round out the story of my life. It deals with books as vital experience. It is not a critical study nor does it contain a program for self-education” (pg. 11).

In other words, a book about books for the common reader? Well, maybe, but Miller leads with a double challenge: “One of the results of this self-examination…is the confirmed belief that one should read less and less, not more and more. I have not read nearly as much as the scholar, the bookworm, or even the ‘well-educated’ man – yet I have undoubtedly read a hundred times more than I should have read for my own good. Only one out of five in America, it is said, are readers of ‘books.’ But even this small number read far too much. Scarcely any one lives wisely or fully” (pg. 11).

Henry Miller is a talker, a conversationalist, so easy reading, but this book is dated and full of obscure references with signs we may not understand pointing down back roads that look like dead ends. There are funny passages, including, we thought, the very title of Appendix III, a long list of “Friends who supplied me with books,” and we were suddenly reminded that a friend gave us our copy, years ago, with the comment, “It’s notable for how bad it is.”

Our friend had marked this passage, on page 29, characteristically surprising coming from Henry Miller: “The writer is, of course, the best of all readers, for in writing, or “creating,” as it is called, he is but reading and transcribing the great message of creation which the Creator in his goodness has made manifest to him.” Miller may be the least of common writers, if there is such a thing as a common writer, but he’s a perfect match for Woolf’s common reader. He sways back and forth, moving forward in much the same way that Woolf suggests in her definition of a common reader, without regard for anything other than what seems to suit his own needs.