Carolyn Ponders Nobel Ignorance
It is Nobel time again, a time when many of us learn the names of
great writers we'd never heard of before. If I may presume to speak
for others as well as myself, why is that we are so, well…ignorant?
mean we are readers. We read the New York or Los Angeles Times.
We read our New Yorker and, perhaps, our Atlantic assiduously. Our
Time or Newsweek. Maybe even a book or two during the year.
are writers. Many of us teach writing, literature or other subjects.
visit our libraries where we can take in the bulletin boards, fliers
and talk to the keepers of wisdom. We surf the Web for research
and e-network with other writers.
belong to professional groups.
why, when a prolific playwright, screenwriter, poet, short story
writer and novelist like Harold Pinter wins the Nobel, do so many
of us not know him? And if we do, why can we not name a single work?
tell you why. Those chosen to be crowned with a Nobel are usually
foreign and that is sad enough. But more than that, they are literary.
That word has become very nearly a dirty word in a culture where
we elect presidents based on a high down-home ratio and shun candidates
who can think.
literarily, "Frankly, my dear," I'm tired of the most
famous quote in literature being widely known not from the book
but from the movie. I am also tired of hearing many of my writing
and reading friends say they don't like or are bored by anything
I have also
heard things like:
never read anything but nonfiction." I presume this means
that only cold, hard facts are worthwhile.
never read anything but (fill in your own favorite here, say Danielle
never cross genres. (Fill in your own favorite here, say, horror)
is my thing."
the Nobel as an impetus, I'd like to see us all stretch ourselves
a bit at least once in a while. Recently I was asked to monitor
a class as part of my preparation for teaching a two day course
at UCLA. The class covered the elements of novel writing and was
full of screenwriters (UCLA is in LA, after all!) who had determined
that writing a blockbuster novel might be a faster road to getting
a movie produced than writing screenplays. One of these students
was after the instructor for a magic equation for novel writing.
I understood. Screenplays use a formula--so many pages of this.
The hook. So many pages of that. The first plot point. The instructor
tried desperately to explain that novels were different, that structure
was important but looser, that novels let a writer ruminate, give
a writer time to let their characters change and develop. This student
was having none of it. Then he admitted that it had been 20 years
since he had picked up a book. Now, how, I ask, can someone be interested
in a craft without experiencing it?
as writers--screenwriters or novelists or anything else-- need to
get our feet wet. If we don't like a genre--say science fiction--because
it is well, beneath us, we should try Ray Bradbury. If we don't
didn't pick up The Connection because it was literary or
too fat or because Franzen gave Oprah a bad time, maybe we should
at least sample it to see what we missed.
world is not black and white. The world of literature is just as
nuanced. And, being snide here, the United States has some mighty
fine authors of our own. That's why I give out my Noble (as opposed
to Nobel) prizes each January as part of this column. I want to
see writers stretch a bit and get rewarded for it. And, if readers
are going to reach a tad, maybe if they are on familiar ground (stories
written by Americans, stories set in America), they will come back
and extend themselves again. Maybe even find that Hungarians, Poles,
and even those Brits have something that we need to hear and that
we'll also find entertaining.
we had all stretched in the last year, would we then have known
Harold Pinter's name? Probably not. But I, for one, wouldn't have
felt so…you know..inadequate? I should have at least known
he had written one novel, The Dwarfs (1990) even if I hadn't
Each month in this box, Carolyn lists
a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a
tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books
or a sapphire among the newly-published.
Tidbit: There is a new organization for authors out there.
Authors' Coalition is a group of authors helping authors.
Check out their site at www.authorscoalitionandredenginepress.com.
what they are doing to support one another's writing and promotion
Tip: Readers' Tip: Check out Eric Dinyer's new gift book
(published by Andrews McMeel). I wrote the foreword as a tribute
to my grandson who is leaving for Iraq next month. Proceeds
benefit the families of wounded troops and you'll even get
a free red white and blue ribbon-magnet for your car as part
of the package. I'll bet you can find someone to give one
the URL: http://www.amazon.com/
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