In a London Review of Books send-off of recently deceased critic Frank Kermode, The New Yorker‘s James Wood revealed that Kermode’s The Art of Telling was one of the first books he shoplifted. It was one of “more than a few” that he stole between the ages of 16 and 18, apparently.
Resources were very slight, and the hunger was very great, and how luscious those oversize academic paperbacks were, the impossible price somehow guaranteeing the quality of the esoteric knowledge within. Novels could be got at libraries, or ‘borrowed’ from a friend, but new poetry and literary criticism made themselves unaffordably superior, and thus had to be liberated by acts of democratic pillage.
He then goes on to express great sentiment for a man who vitally shaped his thoughts on literature for the rest of his life. Really well done, if not headline-making.
Wood’s justification for thievery is actually pretty compelling—though we’re a bit curious about the hunger part, as he did go to Eton. But he’s setting a terrible example! We envision roving gangs of broke young literary men self righteously pocketing Sontag at Spoonbill and Sugartown. Tao Lin‘s given them enough ideas as it is. Won’t somebody think of the academic children?