Who Will Remember Me?

As a writer of middling success (I pay my bills), I have a very convenient index of how long I will be remembered for my writings. Over 35 years I’ve published 20 plus books. Less than a third of them are still in print. Year by year I get awkwardly phrased letters from publishing companies explaining why they can’t go on any longer, much as they wish they could. Would I be interested in buying some of my books at a tremendous discount before they dump them?

Given this track record, it’s not hard to predict that my last book will go out of print approximately ten years after I write my last.

Many of those books will survive  for some time on people’s bookshelves, or in boxes in their garages, or maybe in used bookstores. I’m grateful that with the internet you can easily find copies of out-of-print books. But that’s not exactly being remembered.

Every writer wants to contribute something that will not die. But how many do?  A century ago the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse. One of the judges wrote that “Germany has not had a greater literary genius since Goethe.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t name anything Heyse wrote. Or anything written by his nine Nobel predecessors, save Rudyard Kipling.

Granted, this is a peculiarly male line of thought. Men often get wrapped up in their work, seeking some sort of glory through it. My wife Popie does not seem to operate by this way of thinking, and I daresay the majority of women I know don’t. But they want to be remembered, too—just in a different way. They want to be remembered by their loved ones.

How well does this work out? Most days Popie and I walk our dog in the cemetery. There’s a new section, where we often see people meditating by a gravesite. There’s also an old section, established in the 19th century. Dramatic stories are written in the elaborate stone memorials, if you pause to read them. It’s easy to imagine the grief that surrounded the burials. But it’s vanished. The names and dates are all that are left. Nobody lingers by the graves. Nobody remembers the people buried there. “For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered.” (Ecclesiastes 2:16)

We want to be remembered on this earth, but very few of us will be. The only memory we can count on is God’s. And therefore he is the audience worth playing for.

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4 Responses to “Who Will Remember Me?”

  1. Chris Says:

    Good thoughts. Your post reminded me of a day back at Princeton Seminary, walking around the huge annual used book sale they have to benefit seminaries overseas. Mostly religious books from pastors and churches… many with titles like “The Man From Nazareth.” And the thought came to me, walking through aisles of these books, that virtually all books written will end up on a used book sale like this one. Very few books ever become perennial. You’re right… it’s best to be remembered for your relationships. And to be remembered by God. Peace to you.

  2. The Calvin I Never Knew | Think Christian Says:

    […] Stafford recently wrote a very nice blog post on not being remembered for his writing. John Calvin doesn’t have that problem. After 500 years he […]

  3. Who will remember me? | Urban Onramps Says:

    […] book authors – Tim Stafford writes the truth: Every writer wants to contribute something that will not die. But how many do? A century ago the […]

  4. David Graham Says:

    I just stumbled on this post. I know exactly how you feel, and therefore appreciate the example of Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse (and his nine Nobel predecessors, save R.K.) – oh how quickly we are forgotten. Oh how quickly our written work is forgotten.

    The author of Ecclesiastes hit the nail on the head.

    And you are right about this being a very male way of looking at the world.

    Your concluding paragraph is probably worth more than a hundred other blog entries…

    You hit the bull’s-eye with this piece.

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