Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Faith, Literature and the Box Set

Day 9 total: [18,262 / 50,000]

I went to Barnes & Noble last night and walked through the shelves and found the places where my novels will live once I write them. For the most part, the places are in good spots. I looked at the boxed sets the store has placed at the end of isles in anticipation of Christmas gift buying and thought what my series novels will look like in a box set, particularly what their packaging will be. I'd like spines with just a little bit of shine; something more metallic than matte.

When I did the Artist's Way this summer one of the realization/visualization tasks was to figure out what success means to you and not use anyone else's standards. My standards involve walking into a bookstore and picking up a book with my name on it. After my grumpy, angsty, anxious feelings of the past few days, getting back in touch with that realization/visualization was good for me.

I realized that yesterday's "grass is greener" ranting was more symptom than malady. Whenever my tolerance for pretentiousness (in relation to writing) is reached I lash out snidely about my intent to write commercial fiction and having nothing to do with things literary once I'm done with school. It really has nothing to do with commercial vs. literary fiction; it has only to do with my tolerance for BS being surpassed.

I am a writer. I do not see myself as an Artist, or (god help us) an Artiste. I am a storyteller. And I am in an MFA program to learn how to be a better writer and a clearer, more dramatic storyteller. The storytelling bug is something I've had for a long time and the writing inclination is only slightly younger as I didn't have my alphabet down when I first started making up stories that I very much believed.

That said, I get worked up (and weary) when distinctions are made between the audience you want and the typical reader. These discussions usually end up going down the gutter of no one reads today and that's just fucking depressing and untrue. Someone is still reading or there would be no Barnes&Noble and no more books. I see B&N and I see books. I even see lovely little independent bookstores (although their economics are perilous at best and I really should support them more it's just they don't have very convenient hours for me). Someone is obviously still reading something. I get even more weary when people start bad mouthing one institution or another, (a press, a school, a school of thought, a journal, a paperback writer, etc.)

I read the introduction to How to Be Alone and half of "Why Bother?" a reworked essay by Johnathan Franzen that most people know as the 1996 "Harper's Essay," I came to the realization (greatly influenced by Franzen's notions) that there is a reason for the fanaticism of the no one is reading! panic, and the I must write the Great American Novel!, or save the short story from death! and there's a disconnect between American culture and the desperately good work of novels who try to capture, engage and comment on American culture! The reason is simple: whether they know it or not, these people are practicing the religion of Literature.

Logic does not breed that kind of passion and fanaticism: faith does.

I'm not trying to make a judgment on the practice of the religion of Literature or it's simultaneous co-existence with other religions, I'm just saying that it all gets easier to understand when I look at the rhetoric on Literature as faith not necessarily part of the academic discipline (nuts and bolts and practical stuff) of write.

Literature (note my repeated use of the capital L) does seem to be the predominant faith in academia. I don't think it's a bad thing, I just don't practice it. Just like I don't practice Christianity or Judaism but I don't think they're bad things, they're just not my things. If I could survive deep in rural Indiana as a non-church goer among Bible-thumpers then I can learn to let this rehtoric roll off my back as well.

I am a writer and I want to see my name on the books in the store; I don't need an NYTimes book review. I need a box set of paperbacks with a slight shimmer and my name on every one of them. :)

Highly Recommended