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Man Booker Prize and My Total Lack of Interest

A quick note on the announcement of the Man Booker longlist, which was announced a few days ago.  I wonder how many of you are in the same place as I am — I haven’t read ONE of these books.  With my attempts to keep my own writing on track, I find I am reading less and less.  I, who have always railed at other people about how important it is for writers to also be voracious readers, and supporters of other writers.  When I man a table at the Associated Writing Program yearly conference, I get incensed at those graduate students who wander the aisles asking at each table, “What do you publish?” — when it is clear that they haven’t purchased a damn thing from anyone.  Because I’m getting cranky with age, I ask them, “Why don’t you buy some books and find out?”  They don’t even have to buy from MY press — just buy some books for God’s sake.  How can you expect that the industry is going to support YOU if you don’t support the industry?

And here I am, reading less and less.  I review books, but I rarely read for pleasure any more.  Of course, we’re all broke.  That’s a given.  So, yes, there is that.  I am trying to focus on my own work, so there’s that.  But what is happening to me?  Is it possible that reading has ceased to BE a pleasure? How could that be possible?  Or, is it about these awards, and about the struggle of writers to be taken seriously if they are NOT on a prize list somewhere?  Am I simply tired of the endless beauty contests that this culture forces us to endure?

I wonder if any of you out there have experienced this.  You are a writer, an avid reader much of your life, and suddenly you have no hunger for literature?  It’s like a gourmand losing his taste buds.  It’s like a singer no longer wanting to listen to music.  I’m open to advice on this one, because I’m puzzled.

One comment on “Man Booker Prize and My Total Lack of Interest

  1. The enormity of keeping up with the tsunami of new works is so daunting. And to what end? Are any so special to make us think after reading, yes! this work justifies my effort! The fact is that the slush pile is now published. Much is good — decent — quirky — interesting. So to sift through all that, is it worth the energy and attention?

    I think we are at the end of the Enlightenment — at the end of the Encyclopedic era. We want an encompassing view of knowledge — of literature. But that presumes a river one can look over,view as it passes, even with the aid of a map see to the ends of it. But we are caught in a flood, there is no map to help us, this wall of words simply overwhelms. And inasmuch as reading is participating in that Encyclopedic world, enjoying a piece in its place, that pleasure fails. We are left with the existential appreciation of a work. For those of us that want to believe in Art and Literature, is it enough? Does an existential work have value in itself, without us to place it?

    This is not just in literature, but in many endeavors. In math, there are so many different strands, concentrations, specialties (choose your name), that one expert might as well speak a foreign language to another. Yet math progresses. (I have my own issues with that, but leave that for now.)

    Thomas Wolfe in one of his novels said that the greatest thing to aspire to be is to be a great poet. A great novelist, I believe, came second. How many non-specialists can name ten living poets (whom one does not know personally)? Five? Ten novelists will still come to mind, but not “literary” novelists but more “entertainment” novelists. (Compare with the Renaissance where everyone knew who Michelangelo or Raphael — known by their first names –were.)

    So we are drifting into an anonymous age, where Andy Warhol’s prediction seems to be an exhorbitantly long run of fame. That’s what I see, anyway.

    But to your point, we are also swamped with other things. The media wasteland consumes us; “politics” also. The stress they add undermines the rested mind that can truly let loose and read. Dr Weil had a suggestion to have news-free days (more and more of them.) I think that would be a good start back towards sanity. Then, when the pressure’s off, hey, it’ll be time to sit down with a good book…

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