Swanning around

Last night I get sucked into a discussion of how great War and Peace is and someone said sneeringly "you'd never see stuff like THAT published today", and then I find my poetic muse Miss Stander reading Proust and reminding me it wouldn't survive the Crapometer. (for those of you who've survived this long without reading ol' Marcel, the five volumes do indeed have a plot but it starts somewhere after page 200)

yea well, they're both right.

I'm ok with that.

We have NO idea what people are going to consider the great classics of this century. I only need say Melville, Caravaggio, or Richard Yates to illustrate my point.

Besides, it's not either/or. I may be reading The Inferno to get tuned up for editorial lunches, but I'm also reading Maggie Estep's latest.

Unlike almost every other art form, there's room for a lot of different kinds of taste treats at the biblio buffet. Madelines anyone?


Anonymous said...

Who's to say Stravinsky is better than Mozart is better than Bach?

Environment, education, genetics, and so much more, goes into honing our appreciation for the arts.

So why can't everyone just shut the hell up and read what they like without imposing their sense of superiority on the rest of us ignorant slobs?

PS I vote Bach, but that's just my ignorance showing through. I'd much rather listen to Stravinsky.

Anonymous said...

Thank Dog for Miss Snark.

Those discussions do not happen in Podunk. I wouldn't know what to say if they did, but I'd listen.

Gracious thank yous.

Anonymous said...

I agree there's plenty of room at the buffet for all reading tastes. My irritation stems from the fact I cannot find any NEW books written in the 1970s-80s style cottage fiction I so enjoy. Why not? Because "no one's publishing that" today.

Meanwhile, backlisted titles by Rosamunde Pilcher and her ilk continue to fly off bookstore shelves. Shouldn't this signal a clue gun attack on the publishing industry?

none said...

Bach's work lay forgotten in a drawer for a hundred years. I'd try that with mine but I suspect it'd never be rediscovered.

*politely refuses a madeline*

Gimme that War and Peace, a rainy day, and a cup of tea and some choccie biccies and I'll be happy. Oh, and a windowseat to curl up in, with a roaring fire stage right.

What's the sneering person's point, anyway? Family sagas aren't published any more? War novels aren't published any more? Historical novels aren't published any more? Russian novels aren't published any more? Literary novels aren't published any more? Or is it just that particular epic novel that couldn't get into print? We'd never know unless we tried, and W&P is surely too well known to slip under the industry's radar.

Every time I go to the supermarket and glance at their bookshelves I'm touched to see To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye up there with the fly-by-nights. I've recently noticed that alt hist novel Fatherland is there too. Always interesting to see what endures.

Anonymous said...

You never see stuff published like that today, because Russian nobles had a great deal of leisure and could devote a lot of time to reading an enormous tome, while their krepostnie (serfs) took care of daily necessities. There is a reson why 1/4 of it is in French: Russian nobility was typically so fluent in French, that some of them had difficulty understanding Russian dialects. It is not a book designed for mass consumption, but a book targeted at the elite with a specific agenda in mind. Things like "sell through the first printing" and "agent comission" and "bestseller list" pretty much had no meaning. (Although I'm sure he appreciated the money, given as he had many many children.)

The pace of life is much more frenetic now, and a much greater percentage of population is literate. It's fantastic to see how much progress has been made since the times of Tolstoy. :)

PS. Tolstoy's prose is not considered by Russian scholars to be "the best" example of Russian literary style. That honor is held by Lermontov for prose and Pushkin for poetry.

Anonymous said...

There was a wonderful novel, written by a woman named Olive Anne Burns, titled COLD SASSY TREE.
It was published in the eighties and you have to wonder if it would be published now. And then there was a spectacular novel, titled THE HA HA, that was only published a year or two ago. This might not have been published in the eighties. It is what it is.

Kitty said...

Reminds me of the Cheers episode in which Sam Malone read War and Peace:
Sam struggles to keep track of the characters and plot in the sprawling novel whose very title is synonymous with any book that is long, dense and overwrought.

After pulling an all-nighter to knock off the remaining chapters, the unshaven Sam meets the professor, who insists “War and Peace” is overrated and doesn’t want to discuss it. Later at the bar, Sam loudly laments the wasted effort of trudging through Tolstoy’s text, when somebody pipes up, “Why didn’t you just watch the movie?” To which the horrified Sam replies, “THERE’S A MOVIE?!?!”

Kanani said...

Dear Miss Austen,
After reading your book, I have the following suggestions.
1. Need more hook on page 1.
2. Lizzie Bennett's revelation that she loves Mr. Darcy comes way too late, by which time most of our readers had switched to TV to catch up to their TIVO. Move it up to the first 1/8.
3. There are too many minor characters. This isn't a Robert Altman movie.
4. Rev. Collins needs to have a TV Evangelical show, rather than a simple church in order to establish the magnitude of his wealth.

HawkOwl said...

A lot of things that are considered "classics" today only got to be that way because somebody decided to go on a crusade to make his/her pet artist popular, e.g. Shakespeare, Bach, Mozart. And I suspect a lot of classics got to be that way because one snob wanted to keep up with another snob in the reading of boring or esoteric plot-less logorrhea, and the phenomenon snowballed. That's got to account for James Joyce, at least.

Inkwolf said...

Any Sayoyard can tell you the tragedy and folly of snobbery. We might have had twice as many Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, except that they were considered lowbrow and they appealed to the unwashed masses, so Sir Arthur Sullivan felt that they were beneath his dignity. He wanted to spend his time writing IMPORTANT music.

Of course, almost none of his 'important' music is listened to any more, while Gilbert & Sullivan operettas have been considered high culture for a hundred years and continue to gain fans...

Anonymous said...

This entry may or may not have to do with the email I sent, but thank you either way. I'm trying not to let the miscellany of the industry overwhelm me. I'll just have to work harder, write better, and make it worthy of success, that's all.

To holy cow: I think that, to publishers, "fly off bookstore shelves" trumps all. ;)

Kanani said...

Dear Mr. Coleridge

With regret, we at Poets and Plumbers Magazine must decline your recent poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

1. It's too long. We gauge the length of greatness of what can be usually printed in the more mainstream magazine, "The New Yorker."

2. It rhymes. Please don't get on Dana Goia's bandwagon. We do not consider rhymes such as "green and seen" or "see and me" amusing.

3. Overuse of exclamation points. O Christ! could be considered somewhat blasphemous by those wearing plaid skirts and saddle shoes.

We would, however, suggest that you turn this into an dark-adventure screenplay as a vehicle for Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones. Substitute albatross for either actor, and we're sure there's a story of tragedy somewhere in there.

Rei said...

More recent "greats" depend on the genre:

Fantasy: Tolkien, C.S. Lewis
Sci-fi: Heinlein, Sagan

Of the current generation of authors, in general, you don't know who will stand the test of time. But some names are rooted strongly enough that they seem certain to endure.

Others care to add who they think is firmly rooted in the culture of their favored genres? Oh, I forgot one:

Snark Noir: Miss Snark

Anonymous said...

It does frustrate me to hear aspiring authors compare their work to authors' who were published years, decades, centuries ago, and wonder why they can't find an agent themselves.

I'm always telling people to study the market TODAY. Listen to authors' advice who have been published in the last FIVE years. Because the industry has changed so much, and continues to do so. How Anne Tyler was originally published has little to do with what an author has to do to be published in 2006. (Other than the one constant, which is - write a great book. For TODAY'S audience.)

But it's not just literature that is constantly evolving, as Miss Snark said. So get over it, look at what's being published without looking down your nose at it, and figure out how you can remain true to what you want to say, while saying it in a way that will reach contemporary audiences.

And yes, I'll have a madeline, my favorite yummy cake-like cookie.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the whole biblio buffet thing. I have found myself reading Ayn Rand alongside The Bernstein Bears--don't ask.

I am one of those lucky people who has never had to undertake War and Peace. Any suggestions on how to tackle it defensively?

Christine Fletcher said...

Anonymous, re reading War and Peace: I don't know if this would work for anyone else, but I read the first 100 pages 6 times. This was not deliberate; by p 100, I was hopelessly confused by who was who, and I put the book down. However, by the 6th reading, I'd finally figured it out and sailed happily through to the end. On my personal love-o-meter, though, Middlemarch trumps all.

Reading depends on mood. I've bought books that have sat for years before I read them; one day, they're just the right book, for whatever reason. War and Peace there, a Diana Gabaldon here. The Dixie Chicks sit next to Handel in my CD rack. I'm with anon#1 on this one.

(My word verification: owhywkk. I ask myself that every day. And then I remember: the cats need to eat).

Anonymous said...

Just as musicians no longer write fugues, authors must write for today's market.

Reading is a different matter. I love Tolstoy, but for some reason I've never tried to read Proust. I should give it a try, in case I'm missing something as fabulous as War and Peace.

On the other hand, I can't read Joyce. Much as I disagree with Hawkowl's comment, when it comes to Ulysses she may be right.

Bella Stander said...

Start at the beginning and don't read with the cat on your chest.

Anonymous said...

I think anybody who says 'thing X would NEVER get published these days', and believes it to be true, is just kidding themselves.

You never can tell.

Miss Snark, she say 'good writing trumps' all.

Yes, it does.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Man, I love Melville: not his Moby, but his short stories.

Kanani said...

War and Peace is very convenient to those who are reading Bearenstein Bears.
Here are a few helpful hints:

1. Always carry it on an airplane with you. No one will bother you if they see you're reading War and Peace.

2. Forget about keeping track of all the characters. Just make a note and keep track of the main ones.

3. Sometimes Tolstoy gets a bit dense with description. A lack of TV, Movies, Interntet and fast cars gave him lots of time to write that stuff. His readers (the aristocracy) had even more.

4. When you're not reading it, War and Peace can make a very nice booster seat for your toddler.

5. When you're reading it and you don't want to be bothered, just tell your children you're going to be with Warren Peace for the next hour.

6. Tolstoy wouldn't be a writer today. He'd be a network executive.

none said...

Skip all the bits where Tolstoy goes on about history and inevitability. Just read the story parts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I read "War and Peace" 15 years ago for pleasure and it was a wonderful book. Just don't worry about the Russian names, and let yourself sink into the delightful aristocratic domestic world and the exciting battle scenes. It's not a slog! It's a treat!

Anonymous said...

"The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms."
-Oscar Wilde

Anonymous said...

to virginia miss:

Composers will always write fugues - they just won't write them for harsichord. I've heard fugues in just about everything except rap music - and that's only because I don't listen to much rap.

Lots of dance club music has fugues buried within. Row, row, row your boat is really a fugue.

So write a modern-day fugue I say and you're ready to rock and roll.

Dave Fragments said...

I once read Warren's Piece by Billy Bubba. FOr some reason it didn't contain any Russian names.

As for the post, a whole nine days, that agent must be a slacker. Anyone knows that pulitzer winning novels just walk up and bite you on the butt all the time.

The verification word is "eoexerb" which sounds like a good title for a cross-genre Sci-Fi, fantasy novel set in hogwarts dealing with the Borg battling the Cylons while flyhing around (you guessed it) Uranus.

Anonymous said...

"Unlike almost every other art form, there's room for a lot of different kinds of taste treats at the biblio buffet. Madelines anyone?"

Compare to corrected version and see if you can figure it out:

"Unlike almost every other art form, there's room for a lot of different kinds of taste treats at the biblio buffet. Madelines, anyone?"

Anonymous said...

I'm always telling people to study the market TODAY.

And my point is: I don't like today's market, and I know I'm not alone because there are thousands of people like me scouring used book shops for authors published 20 years ago, whereas we rarely buy a new book.

Meanwhile, the publishing industry whines about how fiction sales are declining. [Sound of clue gun cocking.]

(Other than the one constant, which is - write a great book. For TODAY'S audience.)

There is a large, overlooked segment of TODAY'S audience that enjoys books written in a style that is now considered DATED. Why can't the publishing industry get that through their thick skulls?

So get over it, look at what's being published without looking down your nose at it, and figure out how you can remain true to what you want to say, while saying it in a way that will reach contemporary audiences.

I don't look down my nose at contemporary authors who write in the genres I favor. I just don't care for the way they write. (Or, more specifically, for the way the publishing industry has decided they "should" write for "today's audience.")

Again, I say: one doesn't need a new, "magical" way to "reach contemporary audiences." There are plenty of us out here IN the contemporary audience who are "reached" through the writing styles of 10-20 years ago, and I won't have MY tastes "looked down upon" by editors who think they have their finger on the pulse of the reading public. Obviously, they don't.

theraspberrycordial said...

As a rule I find contemporary fiction very unsatisfying. They do have superb covers and enticing titles though but they are kind of a blur

I will read anything, from either end of the spectrum but the books I remember are usually classics

The best book I've read recently is The Confederacy of Dunces. It was stand alone brilliant

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting perspective, Holy Cow. But ask Oprah how her whole "reading the classics" thing went - how many copies of that two-pack of Faulkner, for example, didn't sell?

The truth of the matter is, publishers need to reach an audience bigger than the one of which you're a part. In order for a book to do well financially, it has to be read by more people than usually browse the literature section at the local B&N.

I know what you're saying because I enjoy a wide range of books, some of which wouldn't be published today and that's a shame. But at least they were published, once upon a time. So I still get to enjoy them. Who knows what people will be reading a hundred years from today? But I know one thing for sure - they can't read it unless it's published. And to be published today, an author needs to understand and accept what editors are looking for. Today.

Anonymous said...

Everything old is new again. To all of you ladies saying certain "genres" are gone, never to return, check out your platform shoes and your skinny leggings....

Dear Mr. Dickens,

Your double use of the word "it" in your opening sentence leaves me cold. This work is unpublishable.


Madame Defarge (oooh, the real Miss Snark?? knit knit knit knit.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Writng to the market usually means emulating what agents and editors were hot for two years ago.

By the time you finish your book based on what you see shelved now and submit it, you'll be greeted with "been there, done that" by the Miss Snarks of the world.

Anonymous said...

Rule of Thumb for War & Peace: Every significant Russian male character in this book falls in love with Natasha at one time or another. (I'm not including actual historical figures that Tolstoy stuck into the book.) Realize this early, and keep track of Natasha's latest as the book proceeds, and you'll be doing fine.

Natasha sees more action in that book than most single Manhattan women of my acquaintance do in a lifetime.

Rebecca said...

I'll bring the linden tea.

none said...

anon #7 (I hope I've got that right), we've already figured out that you're a troll. Now we're working on the best way to starve you to death.

HawkOwl said...

Linden tea. I hadn't even thought about Linden tea since about 1984. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think that Proust wouldn't be published today? I feel cynical about what gets published sometimes myself, and Swann's Way is my least favorite volume of A la recherche (it's my favorite book, so I have a bee in my bonnet about it)...but the writing is so beautiful, and it is so rich and powerful straight from the beginning. There are still a lot of novels published today that are largely discursive, that have more message than plot. You could probably argue that as far as literature goes, plot is less important than ever. Wasn't there a book published recently that takes place entirely during a 30 second escalator ride? Proust isn't going to be, and never has been, a mass market paperback - but I can't believe that it wouldn't get published at all, or get the recognition it deserves, today or any day.