New York Times book reviewer Dwight Garner is generally a pleasure to read, but this week’s “riff” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/dear-novelists-be-less-moses-and-more-cosell.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&ref=books struck me as pretty fatuous. In it, Garner argues that writers need to publish more than one book every ten years lest we, their reading public, learn to “live without them.” Of these parsimonious producers he opines:
“Suddenly our important writers seem less like color commentators, sifting through the emotional, sexual and intellectual detritus of how we live today, and more like a mountaintop Moses, handing down the granite tablets every decade or so to a bemused and stooped populace.”
Really? Sure there are slow writers—in his essay he singles out Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen and Donna Tartt and contrasts them unfavorably with the prolific John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Saul Bellow—but given the pressure any published writer is under to deliver and publish on a set schedule in order to build an audience, I’m skeptical that we’re in the midst of a diabolical slow-book movement.
Garner continues: “Surely they’re in flight from the shackling apparatus of modern publishing: the long press tours (“Hello, Cleveland!”), the much-hated publicity stops.”
In this era of bare bones publicity budgets, the press tours to which he refers are hardly the norm (indeed, the “tedium” of cities like Cleveland seem like some fond, golden age memory, when book tours had not been supplanted by “twitter campaigns” or “targeted mailings”). Most authors are keen for more promotion, not less.
Garner also seems to imply that the time between books is a willful act of withholding, or worse yet, some dark means of artificially controlling the market, like DeBeers with diamonds. Perhaps Franzen and Tartt follow some strict writers’ diet, where by sheer force of will, they stop after a paragraph when they’d rather churn out pages, but I doubt it. The speed at which different people write seems to me as individual as their styles. What do you think?
Do you think that novelists have a responsibility to their readers to write more quickly? If they are slow, do they, as Garner says, forfeit their place in the cultural conversation? Or alternately, do you, like this Guardian blogger, think that these “Moses” style writers are unfairly accorded prestige because of the time in which it takes them to hand down their stone tablets http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/sep/19/literary-productivity?