Life Outside of Academia; Ghost Stories
October 14, 2011 | by Lorin Stein and Sadie Stein
Who are the great American writers of today who do not hold teaching positions or B.A.s or M.F.A.s in literature? It is very frustrating to read that so and so teaches at this or that university, or has an M.F.A. from this prestigious school. Who are the writers writing to make the rent, making a living solely off the written word? Who are the writers writing about life outside of academia? And why is it that people outside of first-world countries have no idea or even care about what American writers are writing about today yet hold Hemingway and even Bukowski in such high esteem? —Fernando A. Flores
I can’t say for certain who holds what degree, or who has held what job—one never knows what skeletons lurk in a writer’s closet—but to answer your second question: with a very few exceptions (Nora Roberts?) people don’t make the rent by writing books. Either you teach, or you write for the movies (or someone else turns your books into movies), or you get a staff job at a magazine. That’s one way to live by the word, and lots of excellent writers do it. They often complain that it gets in the way of writing great books. As for the question of why foreigners like Bukowski, I would guess he translates well. Or easily, at least. Besides, they like us butch. —Lorin Stein
I love to read ghost stories and thrillers in the fall. What’s your favorite frightening book?
I’m with you: scary reads are right up there with apples and changing leaves. That said, everyone enjoys something different; I have an uncle who swears by serious horror, whereas I’m more of what Netflix might term the “psychological thriller” persuasion—I like the occult just fine, but zombies, vampires, crazed animals, and most serial killers need not apply.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been giving myself nightmares with a daily dose of M.R. James’s classic ghost stories. You can’t beat Daphne du Maurier for atmospheric spookiness: both Rebecca and Don’t Look Now are terrific reads, period (with adaptations to match). And more recently, I enjoyed Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger a great deal—a haunted-country-house story with a twist.
Lastly, if you can get your hands on Charles MacLean’s The Watcher, do it; the third act is sort of ludicrous, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more genuinely terrified while reading. —Sadie Stein
Is Gravity’s Rainbow worth the time and effort? I’ve heard that it helps to read V. first, though The Crying of Lot 49 seems more accessible (not to mention slimmer). I’m guessing that it would take a good three months to read Gravity’s Rainbow, plus an additional month for preparatory reading and background texts. This four-month devotion to Pynchon would mean foregoing anywhere from eight to fifteen “lighter” works. Given that I have a limited amount of time to read, should I still give it a try?
It never hurts to try! You may want to start with The Crying of Lot 49 (that’s the one that has held up for me). But I wouldn’t bother doing prep work. If you like it, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you’ll turn to one of the other books—and, at the very least, you’ll have read one of the great slapstick set-pieces involving bananas. —L. S.
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