THE LAZY BLOGGER CRISIS. Usually I exhaust people with my blogging. “How can you write so much?” A friend recently pointed out that I have published hundreds more blog entries than she has short stories. It’s a blog! It’s not a short story! It can take a lot of time, or it can take almost no time.
But blogging pales beside preparing for my trip to England. Will my carry-on luggage fit on the plane? (We used to stuff our clothes in garbage bags.) And most fun of all? What about “British money”? Perhaps I’ll practice with Monopoly money. I can cross out the $ sign and substitute a £ and play the game until I know the money. I am so good at Monopoly. I own Park Avenue always.
AM I READING? Yes. I am working on my “Women’s Almost-Classics” project, compiling a list of North American women’s novels. A few people have already made excellent recommendations, and I hope you, too, will note your favorite almost-classics.
Here’s the list so far.
1. Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman. An American almost-classic, still in print. Here’s what I said on Sept. 22 at my blog (you can read the whole thing here.) “It is a small masterpiece, a kind of female odyssey of the ’60s that ranks with early Philip Roth. Like so many American women’s books of the ’60s, it literally is small: 306 pages, as opposed to the baggy monsters. Tina, the narrator, a Smith graduate, housewife, and former aspiring artist, keeps a diary. Her marriage is boring and…”
2. Falling Bodies by Sue Kaufman. An almost-classic, out-of-print. Here’s what I said on (you can read the whole thing here): “Her 1974 novel, Falling Bodies, is sad and often hysterically funny… Emma has had a rough year. Her mother has died of cancer, and she herself has been hospitalized for an FUO, a fever of unknown origin… Slowly we go through Emma’s life from the time she gets out of the hospital and is so weak she can barely walk around the block… and she has a family crisis. Her husband and son have fallen apart during her illness.”
3. Constance Bereford-Howe’s The Book of Eve. A Canadian almost-classic, in-print as an e-book. The blogger Buried in Print recommended this novel, and I very much liked it. (I will write about it soon.) A 65-year-old woman leaves her grumpy invalid husband and rents a basement on the “wrong” side of Montreal. She spends her days picking up broken items to sell to a pawnshop, and gradually develops relationships with the people who live in her house. Her relationship with a younger Hungarian refugee seemed very real to me and made me smile.
4. Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker. Gina in Alabama recommended this, and I am very much looking forward to reading it. The book description at Amazon: “For this Bison Books edition, James Welch, the acclaimed author of Winter in the Blood (1986) and other novels, introduces Mildred Walker’s vivid heroine, Ellen Webb, who lives in the dryland wheat country of central Montana during the early 1940s. He writes, ‘It is a story about growing up, becoming a woman, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, within the space of a year and a half. But what a year and a half it is!'”
5. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. An American classic, in print. I wrote on July 22, 2010, at my old blog, Frisbee: A Book Journal: “Although Aldrich’s mother, a pioneer herself in Cedar Falls, Iowa, told her family stories, Aldrich also interviewed early settlers in Nebraska and studied historical documents and letters before she began to write this superb novel. Her heroine, Abbie Mackenzie Deal, follows her husband, Will, a Civil War veteran, from Iowa to Nebraska, where he struggles to farm on the unforgiving prairie. Droughts, onslaughts of grasshoppers, and blizzards plague them. One year the prices of grain fall so low that the farmers burn corncobs rather than trade for coal at a loss. Abbie suffers the agony of the displaced and misses the amenities of civilization–Cedar Falls, Iowa, her home, is an “older” settlement. It is a tragedy that she never gets to develop her singing talent. The endless wave of grasses get on her nerves. Yet she struggles to educate her children and create small joyous moments for her family. Aldrich’s understated style in this engrossing novel matches Abbie’s endurance and sadness. Her children and grandchildren never have a clue that she’s unhappy as she struggles to farm after Will’s death. And as we see her age, we’re awed by her story.”
AND MANY MORE TO COME, I HOPE. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS IN COMMENTS.
SHOULD NOVELISTS BE PAID MORE? In this week’s column, “N.B.,” in the TLS, my favorite book publication, the semi-anonymous writer, D.H. (a lot of initials here!), mocks an article in the Observer by Robert McCrum, “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?”
Remember the death of the novel? Of course you do, it was all the rage from about the 1920s to at least the 1980s, from Walter Benjamin to Tom Wolfe. Then everybody noticed that people kept on writing novels and other people kept on reading them….But what’s this, In the Observer Magazine (March 3), Robert McCrum asks, not if the novel is dead, but if the novelist is: “Is this the end of an author’s life?”
D.H. thinks McCrum is hilarious for worrying that novelists are getting smaller advances. McCrum interviews a writer who has had to give up his rented office space to write at home. He has hired someone to renovate his attic. D.H. points out that most of us should be so lucky, since renovation costs money.
My personal feeling? ALL writers are getting paid less these days. A freelancer friend wrote me a few years ago that the local newspaper was a “bloodbath” as people tried to hang onto their jobs. (About half have been fired.) The newspaper here simply includes a section of USA Today to make up for all the writers it has fired. As for freelancing? It’s much harder to get these days, and they’re paying 1980s prices. And perhaps that’s why so many of us are blogging.
I love novels, and of course my favorite novelists should be well-paid, though I gather they are not. I don’t know anything about the book publishing business. In the U.S. many writers teach, and in the Acknowledgements they’re always thanking this grant and that grant and writer’s retreats and so forth…
McCrum interviews Joann Kavenna, who blames the internet for some problems.
Like many in this community, she also worries about the surge in social media, the rise of Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, ie internet sites where anyone can put up “free content”, either for pleasure or self-promotion, or from a confused mixture of both instincts. Put these anxieties together and you have a picture of a way of life facing extinction. In summary, she says, “being a writer stopped being the way it had been for ages – the way I expected it to be – and became something different.”
Yup, we’re here, we’re (not) queer, and we’re not going away. Is Mirabile Dictu changing publishing? Or Goodreads (which I’m not familiar with)? Yes, Amazon has changed everything, and it seems to me that every book gets only two or three stars , and I have no idea how much that influences bookselling. I read between the lines, and a bad Amazon review or a bad professional review can often persuade me to buy a book if there are elements that appeal to me. But if this problem is about marketers preying on amateurs, which I suspect is more widespread in the UK than the U.S., we need to hear it so we can address the problem. If marketers shape the way novelists write their books now based on online reviews, this is a publishing problem. Perhaps that’s why so many of us read classics or just plain “old” books.