Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Sulk

This past week, someone whose opinion I value referred to me as a "literary" writer. This made me happy, as that is what I have always secretly wanted to be.

It is slightly dangerous to be a literary writer, however. Literary books, and their authors, are somewhat suspect. Suspected of pretension, elitism, obscurity, snottiness and forced literary polish. Most horribly, they are suspected of being the unfairly beloved favorites of award committees. All of which might occasionally be true, but all of which is never always true for any one particular book or author. (How's that for a pretentious literary sentence?) ;->

I hasten to assure you, though, that my books have never been the beloved favorites of award committees. While I've gotten some praise here or there, mostly I struggle just to get words on the page, just to get published, just to produce a book that will last five minutes before being forgotten and remaindered. Still, I continue to strive for words that glint and shine, words that reveal a deeper layer of meaning. Call me a masochist.

Literary books, I must add, are hugely jealous of popular books--books of whatever shape, size or genre that tons of people read. Books that actually make money. Lots of money! It might not be pretty but it's true: Literary books sit at home a lot and sulk. For some, book clubs are the only chance a literary book has to get out of the house and socialize with those who admire it.

I have recently finished a book that, in my opinion, is not a literary book, but is one which I enjoyed immensely: The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pheffer. Her previous book, Life As We Knew It, a "first" or companion book to The Dead and The Gone, had knocked my socks off, as they say (and should be read first.) Post-apocalyptic novels of survival, both novels focus on teenagers struggling to save both self and family.

Now, the writing in both is of a type that gets the job done. By which I mean it isn't, in my opinion, "literary." There have also been qualms about the science in the books (the calamity is caused by the moon going haywire) which I am not qualified to comment on, other than, "Holy sh*t! Could that really happen?"

However, these books not only tell their stories sufficiently well, they scared the bejesus out of me. I mean high holy sh*t scared. So that's a good book, right?

In contrast, my literary books are sitting alone on their shelves, crowded into their secret hiding places, jealous and shivery and sulky. "No one loves us," they complain. "When the moon goes haywire, no one will clutch us to their breast or take us with them. We shall be as dried, brown leaves in the fall, blowing across a cold, empty sidewalk."

"Oh, shut up, already," the popular books answer. They are hunched over, busy reading the next exciting, new popular story. They are happy. Their pockets are jingling with money.


kitcurious said...

PLENTY of literary novels will get clutched to the breast when the moon goes haywire, IMHO. By smaller numbers of people, that's all.

Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson said...

I hope so. But which group will survive? The literary clutchers or the popular clutchers? And at what point will it be too late to switch sides? These are the kinds of questions that could haunt a person sitting under a lopsided moon . . .