I'll come up with something in a minute.


Either I don’t read as much as I think I do, or I don’t pay attention to where people come from, or this is just a silly idea.

I was thinking of the really great American Authors. Since I was considering it, only a few people come to mind because I’m no great fan of the Hemmingways and Steinbecks of the world. I’m sure they write very nice books, and I’m sure it bespeaks something horrible about my character that I want something to actually happen in a book besides an old man whacking at a shark (which is really a symbol for… fuck… something. I can’t remember what the hell it’s supposed to be a symbol for anymore) or a turtle walking around for an entire damn chapter, but there it is. Yes, I have actually read some of the great American “Classics” and I’ll take the easily dismissed garbage every time thank you very much.

I had started out by thinking about how Stephen King was once the biggest name in American book sellingness* and how he’s often considered to be a bit past it these days. I don’t know what his sales are like, because I don’t really look into those things, but I must concede that things haven’t been the same the last few years. Even if you really love his work, King’s ending have always been a bit “Oh… okay, I guess.” but that he’s been really bad about that lately. What I was thinking is that when he dies, and really about ten to twenty years after his cannon is forever closed, I think there will be a major re-assessment of his work and he’ll very likely be held up as the 20th Century’s answer for Mark Twain.

What that got me thinking was who are the really great writers in American Literature. Not Hemmingway, or Steinbeck, or even Fitzgerald. Can’t be having them, they limit themselves too much. If you can only write about what’s around you then what good are you? I can’t be having with fishing or bullfighting or longing for another life or even going to pick fruit in California. Drama and examination of the human condition alone bores the fuck out of me, I need something else to go along with that. If I want to read about the complex relationships between man and woman I’ll read porn, which I also find a little tedious as well frankly. I’ve gotta have some murders, or a monster who eats people, or a sword fight, or at least someone getting cut on a shard of razor honed wit. In short, there must be blood for blood is compulsory.

Twain’s good because he’s funny and often times nasty in ways that make even me stand back and say “Daaumn!” E.A. Poe is good, because he was clearly a fucked up individual who put his fears into writing. King, for his current faults, almost always gives every character a first and last name and a personality, which goes a long way to helping me believe in each of them.

The problem is, I sort of run out of candidates at that point. I keep thinking that the writers in question would have to be consistently popular, during their lives and after their deaths. I like Rex Stout and I know a lot of people like H.P. Lovecraft, but both of those authors are really rather niche writers and while popular they’ve never really become household names. The same is true of Chandler and Asimov, who are Americans despite the occasional tie to other countries. Popular in their own fields, but not really known that well outside of the fan base.

I sort of think that members of the list should be known even by people who don’t read for pleasure. I would have to say that Fitzgerald and Steinbeck would probably be bumped from the list just for that last requirement alone. Hemingway might be remembered, but more for having books that one reads if they’re really intellectual or something. You know them sure, but remember that you are my brilliant and sexy readers and therefore know a few more authors than the average person. When you step out into the world of the unwashed masses, even an intelligent non-reader might have trouble with telling you who Hemingway is.

I’m really at a loss for who I would put on my personal list of the 5 really great American Authors. Just to make sure we’ve got all my requirements in place… They’d have to be American, popular during their career, still read for pleasure a significant amount of time after their death (or can be expected to), and well known enough that they can be considered a household name even by people who don’t read much.

It’s probably that last part that dooms most authors, and is why I can’t think of authors beyond the three that I’ve got. However, that it one of the major signs of greatness, that your name can transcend beyond people who have actually studied your work and is recognized by people who only know what sort of work it was.

If I really thought about it hard, I could probably come up with the last two names for a nice round list of five. Right now though, I’ve got a trinity. A trinity is nice and all, but it’s not really what I’m after.

*TOTALLY a real word! No matter what that lying spellcheck says.

July 15, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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