August 9, 2020

Letter to the Editor: A Note of Thanks From Author Gencarella to Book Reviewer Kloman

To the Editor:

It is a certain if unusual pleasure to see a review of one’s book in print. That privilege is more poignant when the reviewer is a neighbor one admires. And in the case of the recent review of my book, Connecticut: Spooky Trails and Tall Tales (October 28, 2019) and my previous Wicked Weird and Wily Yankees (June 3, 2018) in LymeLine, the honor is made all the more special in being penned by Felix Kloman, who is a writer of stellar books and essays and who had the good sense to marry an equally impressive author, Ann Blair Kloman. I appreciate any attention my books receive, but I will cherish Felix’s complimentary reviews forever. For me they are far more valuable than Captain Kidd’s treasure itself.

My one quibble is that in both cases Felix broke the cardinal law of a positive book review: He wrote essays that are more engaging and enjoyable to read than the source materials they detail. Of course, he can’t help but to write charming prose; that much is apparent from his contributions to Lyme Line since his first column appeared a few years ago. Many things make Lyme special, including its inspiring confederation of thoughtful writers, and Felix is first among that pantheon. To have his approval for my books means the world.

As he noted, Felix and I are literally neighbors, and his and Ann’s welcome of my family convinced us of the wisdom of our move to Lyme. But he and I also share a connection that, as coincidences go, deserves some ink. When Felix learned that I was a folklorist by profession, he inquired if I knew the late George Carey. Sadly, I did not know him personally, but I regard his work highly and consider him a model public intellectual. Carey, I learned, was an old friend of Felix’s. Both men are expert sailors and their friendship grew over many trips on the sea and shared summers in Maine.

George Carey was a professor of folklore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where I now have the honor of carrying that title. I am gainfully and happily employed in no small measure thanks to Carey’s trailblazing work at UMass and beyond. The universe often surprises me, but when I leave my job and drive home, two hours away, to check a mailbox perched next to one of Professor Carey’s close friends, I cannot help but think that it also smiles upon us.

It was, then, with trepidation that I left a copy of my new book in Felix’s mailbox. Much rested on it for me. I am not wont to seek the approval of others, but I make an exception for Felix. How could I not? He is not only a thoughtful writer and a model intellectual, but he is that all-too-rare creature: a good reader. His assessment that he relished the folklore stories in the book has made the entire venture in writing it worthwhile.

In his review of my first book, Felix noted that I frequently employed the euphemism “passing” for those who died. He generously noted it as a moment for smiling rather than for criticism and saw comparison with an immortal scene from Monty Python, the “Dead Parrot” sketch. That sketch was a defining contribution to my teenage years. It ignited an interest in humor that informed my decision to study folklore in the first place. Felix was sagacious and gracious in observing how well it penetrated my consciousness. His invocation of that sketch perfectly complemented the work I aimed to do in telling tales of New England eccentrics.

But more importantly, in learning that Felix and I share an admiration for such comedy—true, unabated comedy in the face of life’s absurdities—I am strengthened in my conviction that I am blessed with the best of neighbors. Thank you, Felix, for your kind words and for reminding me that life is made better not only when the universe smiles at us, but when we smile together in solidarity. Your name means “the lucky one,” but I am the one with the good fortune of knowing you.

Sincerely,

Stephen Olbrys Gencarella,
Lyme.

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