5.26.2020

How Serious Are You?

When I talk to an author about his manuscript,  he often will apologize for the type of book he’s writing. I don’t know why he feels he has to do that with me, since my website is dominated by commercial titles. My response to that author reflects a belief that I’ve felt for most of my career.

I don’t think writers set out to write a “literary book.” Every manuscript stems from an author’s concerted effort, and how gifted she is, and how educated she is, and how hard she works at her craft, determine where her book will be ranked along a spectrum. I have read plenty of books that are labeled “literary,” only to be disappointed by the author’s lack of vision. Yes, each sentence is precisely crafted, sparkling like a diamond, but the characters are fairly ordinary and their developmental arcs fairly low. What, exactly, am I supposed to be appreciating as someone who reads only “those types of books”?

My annoyance with cultural pretension extends to different books by the same writer. We all know that only one or a few books form the pinnacle of an author’s career. So what does that mean about the other works? For example, I love a few of Richard Ford's novels, but I found others to be disappointing. They did not change my opinion of his literary merits, because I, like most readers, know that an author will not write a masterpiece every time. Wouldn’t I have been better off reading a highly entertaining thriller rather than a literary writer who has been hitting the sauce too much these days?

Naturally, I like to edit books that are better written. My reading in my spare time is dominated by literary lights. Yet I firmly believe that writing is individual. If your book is reaching a certain audience, if your readers gain enjoyment or knowledge from what you’ve penned, what is wrong with that? Why are you worried about the clown who can so casually sit in judgment on that? Ask him how many books he has written.

The fact that you’ve gotten up all those mornings, kicked yourself during all those sessions to try harder, should be applauded. Forget about inhabiting some mythical literary heaven. Do what you can and enjoy yourself.

“We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess.”
—Mark Twain

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.