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We don't consider our great writers to be national treasures.


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Initial post: Feb 9, 2011 12:42:35 PM PST
We don't have any writers in this country (USA) who are widely considered to be national treasures.

I'm under the impression that in some other countries they do consider their great writers to be national treasures. Robertson Davies was considered to be a national treasure in Canada for example.

I would nominate Garrison Keillor, Roy Blount Jr. and Ken Kesey (for "Sometimes a Great Notion") to be national treasures.

Posted on Feb 16, 2011 2:54:55 PM PST
People in Salinas, California, really hated John Steinbeck because, as a great writer, he told the truth about them. Now they have put up a museum in his honor. I think the town is disgusting for now honoring him. We have some great writers, but only writers seem to love writers. Also, now, the publishing industry has dumbed down literature. It has to have a cliche hook and be written at the seventh grade level and so on to even be printed. Good luck to us all.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2011 1:17:00 PM PST
"It has to have a cliche hook and be written at the seventh grade level and so on to even be printed. Good luck to us all."

That is sad and we do need luck.

I think there is also too much political correctness (from right and left) used as a standard to judge novels. Political content is a very bad standard for judging novels of course.

Posted on Feb 22, 2011 5:33:49 AM PST
L. J. Brown says:
We do adore our writers. It's just that there are so few worth adoring. Those that you named *are* adored, quite regularly. But in the form of a hefty paycheck.

The ones we do publicly praise (Jonathan Franzen for instance), are awful writers for the most part, but "safe" and politically in touch with the literary elite. I am a lefty, but I think our "lefty" writers all suck.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2011 6:10:29 AM PST
"Those that you named *are* adored, quite regularly."

I'm under the impression that Roy Blount Jr. doesn't get the attention he deserves (he's a very fine writer).

I could be wrong. I read a lot but I don't claim to be in the know as far as what is being talked bout among the literary intelligentsia.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 19, 2011 11:07:16 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jul 31, 2011 2:44:03 PM PDT]

Posted on Jun 23, 2011 3:06:51 PM PDT
Our country is suffering from a terrible case of anti-elitism -- and anything elegant, sophisticated, mature, or artistic is considered elite. Look at how many people want to cut all funding for the Arts. Art programs are being slashed from school budgets nation-wide. It is very, very sad. I'm horrified by the number of people who think "literary fiction" is boring and unreadable. Why then would it surprise anyone that we don't honor our great writers.

I'd nominate Jim Harrison and James Lee Burke, in addition to many of those named above.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2011 6:40:54 PM PDT
LeeHoFooks says:
"Our country is suffering from a terrible case of anti-elitism -- and anything elegant, sophisticated, mature, or artistic is considered elite."

That's so true, and it's so sad. Look at the Tea Party, for example. People like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin actually brag about the fact that they didn't go to highly-rated universities.

Posted on Jan 7, 2012 9:25:01 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Jan 7, 2012 9:29:17 AM PST]

Posted on Jan 7, 2012 5:15:43 PM PST
We have lost our way when it comes to books it seems. I can't begin to imagine even comparing the works of author's like John Steinbeck, Updike, or even Vonnegut to what we have today. Mark Twain comes to mind, when I try an imagine his take on what are the bestsellers of today. I like real characters in a book. I couldn't imagine Twain writing something like, "A Connecticut Vampire in King Arthur's Court," or Steinbeck's, The Grapes of the Vampire's Wrath."

Posted on Feb 11, 2012 7:09:00 PM PST
John Logan says:
Even in the 1960s, a great novel like A Confederacy of Dunces could be kept out of publication. Not one editor would take it, but as we now know, 11 years after its author's death his mother got it published and it won the Pullitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. So, an apparent dearth of a nation's great writers doesn't signify the lack of the writers or their quality, but more a problem in the "system" that would allow good work to be brought forward. It's like Yeats' prophecy, "the best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity". We seem to be in those times! That said, Norman Mailer used to state in the 1960s that no good novelist in America would go unpublished, which, just by citing John Kennedy Toole's case, was clearly untrue then, as now. I would love to see some novelist or theoretician (preferably the novelist!) draw systemic comparisons between the corruptions and evils that ruined the financial sector, with a similar short-term greed and lack of care for Quality that has ruined many other sectors, including the creative, such as film, literature, even television (though it had less distance to fall from!). A case could be made for the beginning of the erosion of quality beginning somewhere around 1980...as though creativity peaked in film and literature around the mid-1970s, followed by an abrupt decline or suppression. It's not as simple as anti-elitism, because much of the best art had as its subject matter the common lot of humanity. Where the quality of the art is high, it should be accesssible by all. Yes, Ken Kesey and John Steinbeck were great American writers. I started reading and loving them aged 14 here in Scotland (30 years ago that is!) To say that we have lost our way in USA and UK is to put it mildly I think! And yes, Steinbeck told the truth and was hated for it by some, but probably loved for it by many more. A respect for the truth is probably the first building block we would need to get back in place. We're back to Yeats again: "We have fed the heart on fantasies/The heart's grown Cruel on the Fare."
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Posted on Apr 1, 2012 2:11:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 7, 2012 9:14:04 AM PDT
America has more great living authors than almost any other nation: Don DeLillo, Annie Proulx, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Tobias Wolff...

You're spoilt for choice.

Toole's novel, as we all know, would have been published by Knopf, but fell through after he refused to make changes to his manuscript.

And I don't agree the UK has lost its way: not least because it became obvious that modernism was a dead end, and readability wasn't a dirty word. The idea that being an author is something only the Bloomsbury Set can (or should) do has almost died out completely. That doesn't strike me as a bad thing.

Then the renaissance that started with the first Granta list - the one that included Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Kazuo Ishiguro and Martin Amis...

Posted on Apr 1, 2012 2:30:43 PM PDT
John Logan says:
Hi Ryan,
Clicked on your name and you've done a great, solid review there of Carey's biography on Golding!
Spot on too about This Bleeding City!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 8, 2012 7:58:23 AM PDT
For Katheleen Valentine:

You are correct in saying the government is cutting funding for the arts and so on. However, last week on 60 Minutes, I saw a piece about how the art world is booming in sales. Our very rich already have their homes and their Porsches, so they need art to fulfill their decoration. They only like to buy known artists, however, just like many people only want to buy best sellers.

Posted on Apr 8, 2012 6:48:04 PM PDT
Dear list participants,
All nations today are going through the same "lowering of standards" and "market exigencies," which stifle real literature. Iam absolutely convinced there are hundreds, if not thousands of incredible writers in the US, but most of them will never reach wide audiences because they'll be rejected by publishers who, mostly for financial reasons, don't risk publishing new authors. They will publish "proven bestsellers" like Tom Clancy or Stephen King, even if every educated literary person knows that these books are poorly written, with no attention to style or beauty of language; they have attractive plots (usually repetitive and unoriginal). They are great to kill time on a plane or on a bus, but leave no lasting impression. History will not remember these hacks. After spending last five years translating prose and poetry of the highest caliber, I recommend, for the curious ones and for the adventurous ones, Sasha Sokolov's "In the House of the Hanged," essays and vers libres (available through Amazon on April15). It would be great to hear from good readers their impressions about my, butmostly, Sokolov's work.
Alexander Boguslawski, translator

Posted on Apr 8, 2012 6:50:45 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 8, 2012 11:17:14 PM PDT]

Posted on May 3, 2012 11:09:12 PM PDT
Quinton Blue says:
Literature has always been a small town. Few people read books. Fewer still read fiction. Fewer still read literary fiction. Among books published by publishing companies, most don't sell even 5,000 copies, or so I've read. For novels, it's even worse. I'm not sure this is all bad, though. Perceptive readers will always be scarce. Best sellers are statistically rare and in most cases not literary. But if you look at a list of best-sellers from decades ago, they mostly are books that no one reads anymore or has even heard of. So I don't think much has changed.

In reply to an earlier post on May 25, 2012 10:18:58 AM PDT
<< Perceptive readers will always be scarce.>>

I don't think people realize what a responsibility readers have. It's *so* much more important to read than to write.

And I say that as someone who aspires to be a novelist. As much as I love writing, I realize this world needs committed readers. Our civilization depends on having a common pool of knowledge. We learn a lot about ourselves, our society, and our universe by reading.

Posted on May 25, 2012 11:34:01 AM PDT
Of course we have writers who are national treasures. They sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of books, and have tens of millions of devoted readers. Their works are adopted into movies that gross billions across the world. And you know their names.

They are Stephanie Meyer and Susanne Collins. And England's literary treasure is J. K. Rowling.

They write childrens' books, you say? Sure. So did Mark Twain. That great American novel, "Huckleberry Finn," was a sequel to a children's book, "Tom Sawyer." Twain is a national treasure. So is Frank L. Baum. So is Maurice Sendak.

So is Herman Melville, except he never achieved that status in his lifetime. His fame came decades after his death. His contemporary Dickens achieved instant fame. "Moby Dick" is not for children. "Oliver Twist" and "A Christmas Carol" are.

Americans love books and revere writers, but no adult heart can be won over as completely as a child's.

Posted on May 25, 2012 11:45:03 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 25, 2012 11:46:28 AM PDT
John Kennedy Toole and his incomparable "A Confederacy of Dunces" was brought up twice in this thread. The first poster lamented that no publisher would back it. The second claimed that one publisher would have done so, if Toole only made some changes.

Both are not entirely correct. There were several publishers interested in Toole's novel, but none would bring it out as is. Toole worked for years with an editor who kept requesting changes, which Toole would implement, sending back the revised draft. But he never quite sealed the deal. Finally, the editor asked, "But what is this book about?" and Toole committed suicide.

We can debate whether the editor should be charged with murder. Several years later, Walker Percy (a National Treasure?) could only persuade a university press, not a commercial publisher, to bring out Toole's book, and that after five years of effort. It sold millions of copies, won the Pulitzer, and has never been out of print.

It was Toole's original draft.
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Discussion in:  Literary Fiction forum
Participants:  14
Total posts:  20
Initial post:  Feb 9, 2011
Latest post:  May 25, 2012

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