Selections from the John Cheever Journals, 1946–1981
“Reading my own stories is like some intensely unhappy relationship with a mirror. The work is done and to return to it seems idle in the strongest sense of the word—a demeaning sense of time squandered, of letting a splendid afternoon parade across the lawns without doing any work, without participating or celebrating in this parade.”

“I think of George Orwell on walking.”

“Hemingway shot himself yesterday morning. There was a great man. I remember walking down a street in Boston after reading a book of his and finding the color of the sky, the faces of strangers and the smell of the city heightened and dramatized. The most important thing he did for me was to legitimize manly courage, a quality that I had heard, until I came on his work, extolled by scout-masters and others who made it seem a fraud. He put down an immense vision of love and friendship, swallows and the sound of rain. There was never, in my time, anyone to compare with him.”

“That the exploration of candor in writing does not seem to me a universal domain. There are in literature turning points or feats of discovery—Flaubert and Joyce—that seem universal, but sexual candor I think not. It is the mastery of men like Miller, Roth and Mailer that gives their work its power. These seem to be intimate and singular accomplishments. Now that Roth, not without assistance, has opened up the playing fields of masturbation we find the field thronged with incompetents who feel that self-abuse is, in itself, adventurous, comical and visionary. Phil’s self-abuse is brilliant.”

“On my notes for a speech I find that I describe myself as a traveler from the north. That sense of estrangement that seems to me to be perhaps at the heart of literature—that persuasion—quite unspoken as I understand it—that we have seen other worlds than this and will see strange worlds to come.”

“I had a dream that a brilliant reviewer pointed out that there was an excess of lamentation in my work. I had, fleetingly, this morning, a sense of the world, one’s life, one’s friends and lovers as a given. Here it all is, comprehensible, lovely, a sort of paradise. That this will be taken quite as swiftly as it has been given is difficult to remember.”

Selections from the John Cheever Journals, 1946–1981

“Reading my own stories is like some intensely unhappy relationship with a mirror. The work is done and to return to it seems idle in the strongest sense of the word—a demeaning sense of time squandered, of letting a splendid afternoon parade across the lawns without doing any work, without participating or celebrating in this parade.”

“I think of George Orwell on walking.”

“Hemingway shot himself yesterday morning. There was a great man. I remember walking down a street in Boston after reading a book of his and finding the color of the sky, the faces of strangers and the smell of the city heightened and dramatized. The most important thing he did for me was to legitimize manly courage, a quality that I had heard, until I came on his work, extolled by scout-masters and others who made it seem a fraud. He put down an immense vision of love and friendship, swallows and the sound of rain. There was never, in my time, anyone to compare with him.”

“That the exploration of candor in writing does not seem to me a universal domain. There are in literature turning points or feats of discovery—Flaubert and Joyce—that seem universal, but sexual candor I think not. It is the mastery of men like Miller, Roth and Mailer that gives their work its power. These seem to be intimate and singular accomplishments. Now that Roth, not without assistance, has opened up the playing fields of masturbation we find the field thronged with incompetents who feel that self-abuse is, in itself, adventurous, comical and visionary. Phil’s self-abuse is brilliant.”

“On my notes for a speech I find that I describe myself as a traveler from the north. That sense of estrangement that seems to me to be perhaps at the heart of literature—that persuasion—quite unspoken as I understand it—that we have seen other worlds than this and will see strange worlds to come.”

“I had a dream that a brilliant reviewer pointed out that there was an excess of lamentation in my work. I had, fleetingly, this morning, a sense of the world, one’s life, one’s friends and lovers as a given. Here it all is, comprehensible, lovely, a sort of paradise. That this will be taken quite as swiftly as it has been given is difficult to remember.”

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    John Cheever
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    OK John, Let’s knock off for the day and go drink.
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