In spite of my New Year’s resolution to the contrary, I’m really good at finding things to be anxious about. If I don’t have any real problems, I’ll make some up. I know, it’s a fabulous way to live.
Here’s my latest concern: Right now, I’m reading (well listening-to-on-CD-in-my-car) When She Was Good by Philip Roth. It’s my first Philip Roth, but AK told me he’s gotten more experimental over the years. Even though I checked out this CD collection for its shiny newness (my diva of a car stereo won’t play anything the slightest bit scratched), apparently it was originally published in 1967. And I love it.
But wait, you say, weren’t you worried about something here?
I’m getting to that.
I’m worried because this is like the fourth in a string of 1950s and ‘60s novels I’ve read and loved over the past couple of years: Franny and Zooey, Revolutionary Road, Giovanni’s Room (well, I didn’t love that one, but I loved the style). I used to feel bad for never reading anything pre-1975, but then I concluded, I write contemporary fiction! I should study and love the new stuff! I believe in writing what you read more than writing what you know.
So, no offense to Jane Austen or the Brontes, because from what I remember of English 10B, I like them a lot too. But whenever I meet someone who only reads the classics and bemoans the lack of lyricism in contemporary literature, I am so done with them. They think that just because Austen is what survived into the 21st century, it was all like that back in eighteen-oh-whatever. We’ve just had a couple of centuries to filter out the crap.
We may have only had half a century to filter out the crap from the fifties and sixties, but I’m liking what I’m reading. And I’m worried that that means I’m stuck in the past, destined to write Salingerland. I should be admiring Salinger and Yates and Baldwin and Roth, but I shouldn’t be wanting to emulate how they use plain words in such meaty ways, their razor-sharp interior monologues, their infusion of psychology. Psychology was new back then. Now it probably only works if you add a bunch of irony and pastiche and debunkery, which I like sometimes too, but still…even Philip Roth is apparently not trying to write like Philip Roth these days.
For the record, I’m not that worried about this. I’m actually sort of proud of myself for ever so mildly expanding my reading horizons. But the class I’m teaching keeps reading journals, so this is mine for this week. And what’s a journal without a little drama?