Get off the Internet; I’ll Meet You in the Street

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

From “The Wide, Wide World of Chapbooks,” by Tim Kindseth, in American Book Review, March/April 2005 (Volume 26, Issue 3):

Reading Bob Dylan’s new memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), I was struck by Dylan’s obsessive curiosity as a young man, one that did not allow him to stop with the reading of tattered paperback copies of Balzac and Chekhov—and bound books in general—that were easily at his and anyone else’s disposal. Rather, he had an insatiable appetite for arcane knowledge that took him to the far corners of the New York Public Library, where in his early twenties he was scouring newspaper articles written during the Civil War and available on microfiche for song ideas and personal satisfaction. Had he been content with digesting what everybody else was busy poring over, I’m not so sure his songs would have bloomed.

Granted, most of what you’ll find in chapbooks written today probably won’t be as stimulating to the imagination as first-hand accounts of the battle for Lovejoy Station written with slang long-gone. But there’s always a needle in every haystack, and that’s reason enough to try to get your hands on any chapbook you can, whether you find it at some local reading, at some ruined pawn shop on the wrong side of the tracks, or through some focused browsing on the World Wide Web.

For me, though, this picture of the young Mr. Zimmerman exploring ignored arcana makes me want to turn off the World Wide Web altogether. Granted, this haystack we’ve all made is a marvelous thing, like a new layer of brain we’ve all evolved (ah, if only we could adapt at will, consciously evolve, the things I would do with my extra set of hands!), but I need to go do some browsing at that ruined pawnshop, see what bits and scraps have been left behind. Anyone care to join?

(Direct link to PDF of essay, here.)