Sunday, December 14, 2014

R.I.P. Lee Sandlin

Lee Sandlin, a great writer, a knowledgeable and giving reader, and, in recent years, a friend, has died. I first knew him solely as a writer. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that his two-part essay "Losing the War," published in the Chicago Reader in 1997, essentially made me a reader of history, even as it made me want the most from history: context, analysis, complex ethical thought and empathy. It's an incredible essay, and if you've not read Lee's work before, it's a great place to start.

Right around this time last year, I praised The Distancers, his memoir of his great-aunts and great-uncles, as one of the best books of the year. As that's a book that's largely about remembering--and that stands as a testament to the power of a writer to help us hold on to something of those who are gone--it seems appropriate to quote it here:
Lee Sandlin's memoir of a number of his ancestors (great-aunts and uncles, mostly) achieves something admirable: it brings ordinary people from generations before ours to life, locates them in their place and time, and, without setting ourselves or our own times up as better, or more advanced, shows us just how different they were, how truly far away from the familiar you get as you walk back through the decades. At the same time, he tells a moving story of ordinary people (if strange, and even in some cases damaged--driven, as Anthony Powell put it, by their own furies) living quiet lives, destined to disappear from memory were it not that they had a descendant who became a writer, one who cares about what we lose when memories fade.
In recent years, Lee and I had become online friends. Oh, we'd met in person once or twice, but our friendship was conducted almost entirely through e-mail and Twitter, always going back and forth about books. Just last week, we traded effusions over Anthony Powell, a shared favorite. I'll greatly miss those conversations, just as I'll miss knowing that I could go to Lee with a question on just about any author and get some sort of opinion. He was a reader through and through, and I was grateful every time I got to talk books with him.

Rest in peace, Lee.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for providing the link to the essay. I am eager to read and reread Sandlin with an eye to resolving my ongoing reading dilemma: I am lately conflicted about reading narrative history because I am too often confronted by the historians' political biases and agenda when I had hoped to be reading more objective narratives. Perhaps Sandlin will help me work through that conflict and come to a better understanding of the historian's art.

    And, BTW, your moving tribute to Mr. Sandlin is beautifully rendered. I felt similarly when my "blog friend" D. G. Myers died. Fortunately for us, the words of our friends remain forever with us.