Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bukowski-inspired Mini-rant

I was on my way back from the car wash when somebody on NPR touted the Bukowski exhibit at the Huntington Library/Gardens. Buk (as he liked to say then added that it rhymed with puke) is gone now but his recorded voice lives on and in the snippet NPR played, he said that his poetry looked good because "everybody else was so damn bad."

I had to read a handful of YAs recently (some old, some new), and they were pretty damn bad. Generic and weirdly corporate with predictable arcs and the kind of quirky characters that made me want to breathe into a paper bag.

My problem was not so much the assembly-line feel but I know that some of them took years to write. Years. Rhymes w/ tears. Which is the part I don't understand. Why can't run-of-the-mill fiction (which, I admit, meets a need just as Gap clothes fill a need) be written fast. Why can't it frankly be from-the-mill. At least one a year. Make twelve or fifteen thousand bucks and write another one. Stop pretending that the atelier isn't just a factory. Put on some coveralls and just go to work.

I think I'll lie down now.


  1. I read a lot of YA that makes me wonder why it was ever published, so I understand the periodic need for a paper bag. But I do think one person's factory can be another's atelier. I don't think anyone spends years working on a project that doesn't have their heart and soul.

  2. Are you agreeing with Bukowski's negativity? His condemnation of other writers felt to me as dismissal, with an ugly edge. Is that what we want to give voice to? Haven't there always been unworthy novels published and some of the finer works turned down? Also - he sounds like an unbearable egotist who I'd never want to sit down and talk to much less share a glass of wine.

  3. Gale, you're right, there's no denying that Bukowski was a pig. No one would choose to drink Merlot--Mad Dog, more likely--with him unless they were in the mood to be groped or buked on.

    But Ron echoes something Roger Sutton said in a Horn Book editorial (sorry, don't have the citation here) a while back, which is that lots of schlocky YA is now being packaged and promoted as if it were literary fiction, as if it were worthy of serious review attention. In the adult market, says Roger, such books are called beach books (or maybe he said airplane books), and they're paperback originals that don't pretend to be anything other than what they are: fun, forgettable, escapist stories. So I don't think it's being entirely dismissive of fellow writers to say that YA beach reads have their place--a big place, as I'm sure they make gobs more cash than lit. novels. I also think Roger and Ron are right--argh, all that alliteration!--that there's nothing shameful about calling a spade a spade.

    Why some spades take longer to write than others, I don't know. I'm guessing that most of the shovelers DO shovel fast.

  4. I just want to be in the Huntington Gardens, one of my favorite places in the world. I want to hang out with some cacti instead of all of this snow.