The subtitle of Portland author M. Allen Cunningham’s new book The Honorable Obscurity Handbook is “Solidarity and Sound Advice for Writers & Artists, Being a Compendium by One of That Kind, of Essays, Correspondence, Autobiography & Marginalia with Ample Quotations Affording Guidance & Consolation from Ages.”
While this extended title borders on overly verbose gimmickry, Cunningham has serious authorial chops. His 2004 novel The Green Age of Asher Witherow was selected as a number one Book Sense pick by the American Booksellers Association. His second book, Lost Son, was a stylistically ambitious novel about the life and work of the poet Rilke. In short, he’s earned the right to get a bit kooky with The Honorable Obscurity Handbook, what the press release describes as a “gloriously uncynical answer to a publishing world awash in cynical careerism and bottom-line thinking.”
“Gloriously uncynical” is not a phrase one hears very often in our culture’s current irony-worshiping zeitgeist. It’s so unusual that it could be used as one of the statistically improbable phrases by which Amazon.com indexes the book. And that’s a good thing. Cunningham’s jaded hipster neighbors may sneer when he describes “novelists and poets, who strive away in shabby rooms” as “forces of unpaid human creativity in service to something larger and more lasting than themselves,” whose only incentive is “destiny.”
But the earnestness of this line, the fact that he can use the word “destiny” without the merest hint of sarcasm or pop-reference to Darth Vader, is a sign that this is a book that at least attempts to transcend sniping and snarking. This is a book—“part consoling source-book, part cultural commentary, part wry self-help manual, and part inspirational anthology”—that speaks to and encourages the nurturing and gnawing heart of the creative spirit within us before the disparaging and capitalistic forces of our daily lives censor it mute.
Being true to that creative spirit is what matters. Not the fortune and glory, kid, but the honor in obscurity.
Are you honorably obscure?
Come find out.
M. Allen Cunningham will read from The Honorable Obscurity Handbook on Sunday, June 9 at 12:30 p.m. at Grass Roots Books & Music.
By Nathaniel Brodie