Friday, June 3, 2011

What Should It Be?

"The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life." ~Z. Smith

I've been listening to a book titled Changing My Mind, a book of essays by Zadie Smith. It's been a stimulating read so far because she's a writer's writer. I mean, she writes about writers and she writes very well while doing it, and with authority. It's a book about consuming and producing literature, and you can tell quite quickly she's consumed plenty.

She slices and dices lives and works of people like Kafka, and E.M. Forster and Nabakov, and gets one thinking about what good writing ought to look like. What should a modern novel look like? Is the traditional 19th century format the way to go or is it time to be abandoned? How much work should the reader have to do to get the author's pearls?

The reviews on indicate that the book is not for everyone. Maybe I will get bogged down myself, but for now the essays demonstrate a mind awake and a keen eye for observation.

In some ways I'm wondering what motivated her to go into such depths with regard to George Eliot and Middlemarch. My suspicion is that she's trying to figure out for herself what a novel should be. Tom Wolfe arrogantly pronounced the novel dead about forty years ago, and by the proliferation of Reality Shows on TV, he may be right that the hunger for fiction has diminished in our time. But "dead" is a pretty strong pronouncement and based on the sales of books by Michael Crichton, Tom Clancey, Stephen King and James Patterson, I'm guessing there's still plenty of life in the genre.

Oh, and if you're looking for someplace to go some evening this weekend, check out the new show featuring the 3-D art of Mary Plaster at Beaner's in West Duluth. It's big, and it's delightfully in your face. Death, Gaia, Poseidon, Helios (the Sun God) and Zeus are all on hand in rich enormity. Obviously she used a vehicle larger than my Honda to transport the pieces there this week.

In the meantime, whether you're making art or making stories, good luck in working out the fundamental problems of the work. How accessible should it be? Who is your real audience? And where do you want it to go?

And just to mix it up, here's another quote from Zadie: "I myself have never been able to figure out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat. "

Till the morrow....

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