Last week, as part of a drive to downsize my library and de-clutter my life, I threw the above issue of Big Table into the waste bin. For many people who value ‘the life of the mind,’ as it was once called, tossing the printed word onto the rubbish heap is strictly forbidden. Books never! And, although the case of single issues, or short runs, of old magazines and literary journals is not so clear cut, I have seldom felt able to part with them either: New Yorkers (covers, cartoons and long, long wonderful essays often not quite read); Atlantic and Harpers (worthy, even important, articles); NYRB (toss them, but of course not that issue . . . nor that one); New Statesman (“This England” and the Weekly Competition); scores, nay hundreds, of political tracts; endless literary journals and chapbooks, especially when friends or favorite authors appear in them.
Reaching seventy changed all that for me. Nowadays, when books, whole categories of books, are of no interest to booksellers or even thrift shops, it is time to throw them out, except for the few thousand that are dearly loved and that do nicely furnish the living room and study. With regard to the single issue of the little magazine Big Table, my eye happened to catch it as I closed the lid of the big garbage bin heading for the curb.
What’s this? That’s right, the first issue had pre-publication excerpts from Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Oh, and 3 poems by Gregory Corso! Look, even Kerouac is represented. Now I remember. I picked this up at a Boston bookstore where Kerouac and Ginsberg were reading. And I got in the wrong line for Kerouac’s autograph, ending up with Ginsberg’s instead. Ginsberg wasn’t represented in this issue though he did appear in others as I recall. Many people said Big Table, which was apparently given its name by Kerouac, would become the “official journal” of the newly arrived Beat Movement. In a sense it was that, although it only published a few more issues. I suppose it didn’t quite survive being banned by the US Post Office in spite of an eventual court decision in favor of the magazine.
As you may have guessed, in the end I couldn’t quite part with this little gem, so I rescued it, at least for the moment, perhaps, to be discovered again some day.
Burning the Books
Beginning or End?
Small blessings #4: Just a touch of rose.