first thing you learn is that you always have to wait

There was an interesting article on the NY Times website here.

The premises are:

  1. Great American literary-type (male) novelists are taking longer to write novels (and the novels are mostly getting longer, too).
  2. This is one cause of the increasing cultural irrelevance of the literary-type novel.
  3. America genre-type writers are producing more novels.
  4. Barbara Cartland and Isaac Asimov are somehow comparable (and, for some reason. "regrettable").
  5. Women don't write novels, or, if they do, those novels are not really worth discussing.


I have a few comments (leaving aside the most obvious problems).

James Patterson is cited as writing a lot of novels a year (up to nine!). Sorry, not even in the running. Walter B. Gibson wrote the Shadow pulp novels. Twenty-four a year. For years. All by himself, using a typewriter. Patterson is lazy.

Americans do admire big books. I wrote about that here.

Interestingly, something similar is true of movies as well. Woody Allen is considered a freak these days for making a movie every year (he's even mentioned in this article), but John Ford used to make three movies every year (and some of them were among the best movies ever made), and his pace was not unusual in those days. The movies have not been getting correspondingly longer, but there are commercial pressure there (and I think the average American movie is longer than in 1940, for example, but I don't have statistics).

[edited slightly for clarity]

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8 Responses to first thing you learn is that you always have to wait

  1. Kristi says:

    I haven’t read the NYT article yet but I am laughing so hard at your comment, “Patterson is lazy.” So interesting how this debate about the novel (high vs. low culture, literary vs. pulp authors) never goes away — the same arguments have been thrown about since the 18th century… esp. re. women writers…

    • Well, the article doesn’t ecplicitly dismiss women writers, it just ignores them. I believe only three women are mentioned, amd two of them slightingly.

      Welcome back. by the way. Haven’t seen you around so much recently. I need to catch up on your blog, too.

  2. sonje says:

    Women don’t write novels? What? Perhaps you/they meant to say that women don’t write literary novels (an exaggeration, of course, obviously some do), and if so, maybe the numbers support that, but the wikipedia entry for “genre fiction” tells me that “romance is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America,” and women are the ones writing (and reading) them.

    • As I say, the Times didn’t make a statement, they just talked about a bunch of men and almost no women. I think the trick is that to be seen as a serious literary writer, you have to be considered to be that by the establishment. If not, you may be popular and you may be good, but there won’t be articles in the Times complaining that you don’t write enough books. For example, I notice that Toni Morrison has only written two novels in the last twelve years, but she was not mentioned in the article.

      Obviously women write novels (I assumed that went without saying), but they mostly don’t get accepted into the boy’s club of Great Western Literature.

  3. tsbazelli says:

    Read the article the other day, and thought the tone was dripping with condescension, alternating between ‘if you take too long to write books you’re lazy and irrelevant’ and if ‘you write too fast’ you’re not writing ‘good’ books. Whatever good might be deemed to be (in this case, white, male, non-genre fiction).

    • That’s just about it.

      For me, I just care how good it is. Terrence Malik is not obligated to work any faster than he feels like. If you’re going to compare Malick to John Ford (and there are similarities), what counts is what’s on the screen, not how long it took to get it there.

      “There is no clock on my busines.” (Rooster Cogburn)

  4. Tiyana says:

    Ditto what Theresa said. That NY Times article was garbage, seriously. Who even listens to these guys any more?

    I really don’t get Mr. Warner’s attitude towards ultra fast or slow writers. If you aren’t like everyone else and writing the same number of novels per year, it’s like there’s suddenly something wrong with you. Everyone has different writing speeds. What in the world is wrong with that?

    Personally, I would wait an entire decade to see my favorite authors finish their next works if I had to. I really don’t care how long it takes. Sure, the sooner, the better, but I’m not gonna wine like a baby because they aren’t novel-churning machines.

  5. Thomas Pynchon (who must be my favorite writer, given how much I write about him) is 74. He’s written seven novels and a few short stories. Some of the novels are huge; others are not. He does not have a teaching position and he does not do book tours or promotion (cited in the article as common reasons for delay). He publishes when he publishes. I hope there’s at least one more, but my only complaint is that I wish he’d allow e-books of his novels (it’s the only way I’ll ever read Against the Day, which is over 1,000 pages).

    To Kill a Mockingbird is not diminished in any way (including cultural significance) because Harper Lee never published another novel.

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