Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Good Literature, Yeah, so what? Good question, so what? Because in a world where so much crap gets published and promoted by by reviewers who should know better, or at least their consciences should know better, the world lacks really great literature. I got sucked into reading Frank McCort’s Angela’s Ashes. This was pushed by the queen of ignorance, Oprah Winfrey. Because of her efforts to promote his book he got a Pulitzer prize for what was little more than a joke. My family was so poor that….Barump bump, we had to use public restrooms. I always thought Scott Fitzgerald was depressive enough as a novelist, but McCort really makes me sad that I actually read his work. Oh, he’s not the only one I have been disappointed with as far as recommendations go. Well, some fellow is a genius and a MacArthur Foundation grant winner and thus should be read. I couldn’t get pass the first twenty pages without puking. So I go back to the tried and true, those who actually never lived in residence at some university nor participated in the write novels by committee group. You know, America’s greatest writer, the one who has been called the American Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemmons, his real identity, never attended college, never was invited to live in residence pontificating about the holy art of writing, not subjects to submitting his work to a committee of his peers for rewriting. I think Clemmons would have a riotous field day with today’s English literature departments and New York based critics. I think he would kick everyone’s ass as hard as he could and laughed in their faces.
So how many of you have ever heard of Emeric Pressburger? How many of you have read James Hilton? My library is filled with these lessor know literary lights, who, back in their day, were something to behold. How many of you ever bothered to read John O’Hara? What about James Jones or Elliott Baker? What? You’ve never heard of Harry Brown? My introduction to literature, such as it was, came with reading Mickey Splaine, the Mike Hammer novels. My teachers hated my choice. Why couldn’t I read Ethan Frome or Pilgrim’s Progress? They were too boring, that’s why. When you are fourteen you want something that zings and somehow old English standards just don’t cut it. So I went on the the harder stuff like LeRoy Jones (he has a Muslim name now) and Norman Mailer. Yeah, did you know Mailer wrote a war novel that was, incidentally, made into a movie? The Quick And The Dead, an interesting look at the war and the experiences of the American soldier in the Pacific theater in WWII. It was one of the few real novels I read. Oh I devoured short stories. God how I loved Somerset Maugham. Actually, the Playboy magazine did a good job of publishing good short story fiction from 1964 through 1972, after which the magazine went down hill. A lot of the fiction and especially the interviews were just not the quality the earlier years had seen. Esquire was a good source of literature and well written articles but by 1966 they couldn’t compete with Playboy nor the New Yorker and flirted with the girly magazine format and fell predictably flat.
I’ve always loved the short story genre. I read my way through Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps one of the greatest masters of that genre. Later came Bret Harte and O’Henry. I hear that much of O’Henry’s work is banned from public schools because he used the word Nigger a few times. And we all know that Huck Finn is not on any of the recommended reading lists for that reason. Yet if James Baldwin uses the noun that is acceptable because he is a black man. How perverted a world we live in these days. And by the way, you should read James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, both men have a lot to say about the conditions of society and humanity at large. On the other hand, take a look at John Fowles novel, The Collector. What a psychological study that is. And when I took up writing I read a lot of good authors. Eric Amber is a very fine writer of the mystery adventure spy genre. Graham Greene should be required reading for the want-to-be novilist as well. How Green Was My Valley by LLewellyn is an interesting novel although I fear it needs better editing. Still, Sinclair Lewis and Frank Sinclair are more that worth the effort to read. The Magnificent Ambersons bu Booth Tarkington, now there is a novel. Not one wasted word. The man has a way of lush writing that Faulkner would push to perfection. And Faulkner excelled at the short story genre as well. Hemingway, not so much. I’ve never been in love with Hemingway or Fitzgerald, I’ve always considered them second rate. Ford Madox Ford is one of those great writers as is E. M. Forester. Certainly John Galsworthy had quite a bit to say about his time period as England was changing and opening the doors to emancipation for women. Yes, Jane “Austin was clever and wrote about the plight of middle class and upper class women, but what about all those women in the working class? Thomas Hardy had an answer for that cause.
But the common thread for all these writers is that they had something to say about the human condition. They asked questions of society, of law, of people themselves. Even Crane Hart of The Red Badge Of Courage had something to say about personal moments of truth, of social values and the fulfilment of obligations. James Fenimore Cooper debated the ill use of the native Americans at the hands of French, the British, and the American colonist. True, he may have attached too much importance to his perception of their wisdom, but still, there was a point about honor and truth than could not be conveniently ignored. What I see today is a pandering to idiots. Writers who write not so much because they have some truth to tell but because they have something they want to sell and don’t care how they do it. But the problem goes much deeper than that. Back when we had the old vanity press one had to pay a publisher to print a few hundred or a few thousand books. You might remember that Thoreau actually paid a publisher to print about four thousand volumes of his first book which he stored in his family’s attic and sold individually to anyone who would purchase a copy. Now we have Amazon, which is willing to publish anything. Barnes and Noble was doing the same thing some ten years ago, I don’t know if they still offer that service. And we have a number of very small publishing houses that will happily publish crap. Then there are the blogs, like mine, that would never see the light of day if it weren’t for the internet. I make no claim as to the quality of my writing. But few individuals read my works, so what does it matter? I also make no attempt to publicise or otherwise sell myself. But come next month I will content myself with working on my third novel and I hope to make a better go of it. Writing is a craft and one must practice, that is why I write these blogs.