Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

January 22, 2007

Zadie vs Snoopy

There are three things that Zadie overlooked in the latest part of her missive for scribblers and readers: The miracle, the unpersuaded and Snoopy.

The miracle.

I am encouraged at the prospect of Zadie’s proposed thorough reader. There is however a big boulder between her thorough reader’s hands and the literature they are to become thorough about. Zadie’s books are reviewed, so are many of the writer’s she knows, but surely she’s acquainted with a couple, (if not I can provide a list) who are blatantly ignored and whose books go away off to the literary chalk pits. It is nothing short of a minor miracle if your book is reviewed these days, after overcoming the major miracle of persuading publishers that a novel about a fork lift truck driver from Winnipeg has value and could find readers.  The word count for literary journalism is diminishing. We are seeing reviews recycled in newspapers off the wires constantly over here. If you’re unconvinced by this argument open the paper and count the number of fiction (do not include non-fiction) titles reviewed, then look at how many are emerging voices. It’s grim, grim, grimola. The Irish Times has perhaps 3 per week, that’s 12 per month. So the view from the gutter where I sit would have to be if they are saying anything about you whether it be good, bad, slippy or sniffy — there’s a vague hope your tome may make it into a pair of human hands. 

 Last year I had a devil of a time trying to find a newspaper to run an interview with Beckett’s biographer. I kept thinking Beckett, who spoke to no one, spoke to this man: why is it so difficult to convince the newspapers to listen to him? I mean I hadn’t even got to the part, where I admitted to asking the man obscure questions about Duchamp and the chess games. (Duchamp prevailed if you’re wondering)

Yes Michiko Kakutani fundamentally does not believe the world to be as David Foster Wallace, but as a visual artist once explained to me …I look at work for what I don’t know, not what I already know. So could Mr FW himself grasp anything from her exhales? Perhaps those two are not a good example as they’ve probably gone a few rounds by this point. Besides he doesn’t strike me a bloke about to be deflated by getting boxed in the NY Times. There are bigger literary injustices putting pressure on my frontal lobe on a daily basis. (Where are the Iraqi novels? etc.) Perhaps because I have far more to learn than Zadie (she’s an accomplished gal) I find literary criticism even when if it’s giving rickets to the knees of some novel I happened to like, can be enlightening none the less. (This could be the advantage that comes from the liberating matter that if I never write a book no one will notice) If the hammer’s going at your knees it’s likely a different matter.

The unpersuaded.

This week someone mentioned, adding politely it wasn’t a dis to the review I wrote, that they did not intend to read that particular novel because the subject matter was unappealing.  I considered it likely therefore that my review had failed the book concerned, since I tried to impress the value of this particular book in persuasive terms. The reader remained unpersuaded.

I decided to write about books in the first place because I felt the absence of so many books in the pages of the newspapers that I felt mattered and I was tired of people asking me about Frank McCourt on the bus. No disrespect to Frank, who I am sure would concur that Irish literature doesn’t need to begin and end with him.

 I must now revise my thinking and make an even bigger commitment to being persuasive in either direction it would seem.  It’s not enough to be thoughtful and insightful in reviews once must practically move the Yangtze River for a book if it is important that it be opened.

Snoopy.

All the reviews I read of Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone drew attention to the likelihood of him being a bit of a tosser. The tosser factor did not necessarily put me off, as I wasn’t needing to go camping with him and in the canon of literature some of the finest books are written by the grumpiest, most unforgiving of creatures. One review in a much less significant newspaper mentioned Snoopy and it was this the presence of Snoopy solidified my intention to seek it out. There was no suggestion in any review of how funny it is. I cackled my way across a bridge at his descriptions of pursuing the wax tailed duck in what can only be verging on a worrying dedication (for those close to him) to the feathered variety.

After the usual alarming thoughts that humour is wildly absent in this earnest continent I was reassured that Snoopy had prevailed over all the status of named and esteemed Literary Critics. Clearly if you place Snoopy somewhere in your novel, salvation will be forthcoming. It’s not criticism without cynicism that will help literature: it’s Snoopy.

January 14, 2007

Zadie Smith on failing and failing with ambition

The height of encouragement to see someone — Zadie Smith — born post 1971 forming cohesive thoughts on literature, even if I don’t concur with them entirely. I feel the focus of my generation (and I’ll be hitting the lack of a pension slightly before Mrs Smith) has been on career instead of work in literary matters. Explained maybe because we escaped the caning of a classical education and the Atari computer was only just putting in an appearence on our exits. We therefore plunged after Latin and before the ipod. 

 Here’s the link:http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1988887,00.html

The bit that tripped me up:

For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. If that sounds woolly and imprecise, I apologise.

It’s neither the invocation of sheep nor imprecision that troubles me about that sentence it’s that it’s a depressing prospect since the notion that the writer would accurately express their way of being in the world feels very limited. (Case in point: the novel ‘Saturday’ — a reminder that chumped up, satisfied folk aren’t interesting. ) I’d hazard a guess that many writers barely have one foot in the world by virtue of the fact they’re stuck behind the curtains all day long. Perhaps I am not fathoming her drift, but in simple God’s ordinary people’s terms: I often long to read a novel about a man digging a hole and by her thesis I am very unlikely to ever read one unless a writer gets reincarnated. Beckett was probably my best hope. 

 I am thinking in particular of a novel like John Berger’s The Foot of Clive, which pushed me over the cliff mentally with the possibilities it held up to me when I read it. It’s just hard to be certain that book represents his way of being in the world. But perhaps infact it does, if one is to include his imagination to be him, and his imagination rambled off down the lane and plucked and rendered those people to his page.

In anycase I appear to have argued my way around to agreeing with her since I have neither sufficient science nor intellect to discredit it.  I have an affection for her work, (despite there being a certain amount of old guff in it) as Queens Park was the first grown-up place I lived and I bought my first significant poetry book in a bookshop on the Kilburn High Road when I was supposed to be buying a warm coat. I lived in a flat with a woman who was a former Bay City Rollers groupie, who had the snaps to prove it.. And a Keep Fit fanatic in the days of the leotard, star jump version of Keep Fit and a girl from Monaghan, who I’d go up the Kilburn High Road to get ‘messages’ (shopping) with. Nostalgic digression there: cue the theme music from The Wombles and shaking of head as that last paragraph is the equiv. of saying well I like Flaubert on account of being French. A most pointless of paragraphs.)

I did like the idea of accepting as a writer one is unlikely to get it right. There’s something very liberating about it. Though it’s another dart on the board for recommending being a good reader over a poor writer. If one could have enough sense to choose such a thing.

The Guardian will need to update their author page (daft concept clearly) on her since Mrs Smith is quoted at the top of it:

“Novels are not about expressing yourself, they’re about something beautiful, funny, clever and organic… Go and ring a bell in a yard if you want to express yourself.

On reflection I think there’s far more to be gained by reading Flaubert’s correspondence than the above linked piece. It reflects the uncompromising and near enough stigmata approach necessary to fail better. He may have been a flawed individual in his intolerant attitudes, but his relentless dedication to the written word is infectious. (see Flaubert’s Take entry for the link). This is an age of clicking and agreeing and nodding, while someone else has done the reading. But will impressionable minds actually go and read the writers she’s talking about. Unlikely perhaps.