Thursday, January 7, 2016

Get Lucky

After reading some of my Amazon reviews, a writer friend asked: What happened to the great writers? Good question. I keep thinking I'll get lucky. Living writers: who do I admire?

I do like Pat Conroy, but he's a tough read all the way around, I adore Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, V.S. Naipaul, Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, John Nichols. 

 Notice that most writers on that list are not American writers. Gabriel García Márquez is dead (I'm keeping this list to living writers, so Edward Abby, Peter Matthiessen, and Bruce Chatwin are also off list). I guess I should toss in Barry Lopez too. But that moves me off fiction and into another realm...

I really don't like Dan Brown, and many other "famous" or best-selling living writers. I will read John Grisham in a pinch, but I can't say I enjoy his work. Nor Mario Vargas Llosa, or Annie Dillard. Has she done anything since Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? Or Michael Cunningham's, The Hours, what a struggle that was to read; AS Byatt, and Milan Kundera, I felt cheated by them. Paulo Coelho could easily join that cheatin' list.

What do I mean by cheatin' list? Author's use of deux ex machina to get out of a story, too much reliance on godtalk—that includes new age spirituality bytes, etc. Sometimes a book is just a chore to read, despite good craft and metaphor.

I don't seek out Stephen King (I hate horror, and most sci-fi). Ditto Ursula le Guin and Margaret Atwood. Hated Earthsea Trilogy, and Handmaiden's Tale. I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, enjoyed them but I would never revisit them.

Yeah, yeah, I read all of J.K. Rowling's Harry Pottery tales, and was momentarily enchanted, but this is supposed to be a list of great writers. Popular, best-selling, or top 100 living writers does not equate to great writers. I used Ranker's Best Living Writers List Criteria: writers who are still alive, in order to compile this list, and then I diverged. It got me to thinking about the process of how we construct lists. So, other types of lists evolved. 

There's the List you need to read for Grad School: Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, John Irving, Tom Wolfe, and the ones I'm supposed to like: Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Sparks,Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, etc. This list is thankfully short as I'm limiting it to living writers. Otherwise, there's no telling where this blog post would end.

And then there's the uncategorized list of writers who've jumped ship, the poets I've known, who later became novelists (vs. novelists who became poets:  Edna O'Brien): Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Sherman Alexie, Michael Ondaatje, Colm Tobin, Dave Eggars, etc.

Thank Gawd I'm not compiling a list of 100 best poets. Would I have to limit it to poets who are famous, poets I don't know, poets I've read, poets I've read with, poets I've worked with, poets I've slept with? Now there's an incestuous list. Better to stick to dead poets for that list.

And there are the pulp fiction lists of popular writers I secretly read: James Patterson, and Dick Francis (didn't he die? I know his son's been co-writing books with him, perhaps they've a special arrangement. Adds another dimension to ghostwriting). 

Jim Patterson's a thoroughly nice guy, I like what he does with his money, and long ago, and far away, I once read with him at Book Passages, and because he was interested in young writers, I gave him a CPITS anthology of student poetry.... Not sure of his hack partnerships, they read fast and furious (three-page chapters), but I do love his Maximum Ride series.  (See, I do like some sci-fi.)

I hurt my knee a few years ago, I've had a lot of down time, laid up, don't like TV, and then I discovered free ebooks on Amazon, I devoured them, then had to get the bad taste out of my mouth and wash out my eyes, so I began to write rather warty reviews.

I've read so much utter dross, it's frightening. I'm afraid it will rub off and then I will become complacent, so I hone my skills by reviewing ebooks. As penance, perhaps. Sometimes it's purgatory. More like hell. 

But then, I'm a poet, not a novelist, what do I know? We take leaps of faith with obscure metaphor, nobody reads us, we don't even write in complete sentences...

There are only a handful of "new" Amazon writers, whose serialist work I admire, and will actively seek out: Jinx Schwartz, RP Dahlke, R.E. Donald, Chip Hughes, Mike Faricy, Brian Meeks, MZ Kelly, Steve Gannon, Jennnifer L. Jennings, Bev Pettersen, M. Ruth Myers, Abigail Keam—but her books have gotten sloppy as of late. Children's author, D. B. Patterson's adult novel, Perdido River Bastard, may be a one-hit wonder. Ditto Auburn McCanta's All the Dancing Birds. I'll keep my eye peeled for work by Florence Osmund and Ellis Shuman—they both are writers of promise.

As to how much I read, I read fast, furiously fast. Most of what I read does not require much by way of grey cells. That is not to say that I haven't read most of the classics, I've read most of those too as well. Grad school sort of ruined me for reading escape fiction, in order to escape, as it were, so the review process is my penance for reading so much poorly crafted writing. 

Every little once and a while I get lucky and am sucked in by the storyline. That's what it's all about, isn't it? 

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