Saturday, November 17, 2007

Immortality, Writing, and Hanging In

An Essay
by Carter Jefferson, editor
Internet Review of Books

The recent death of Ira Levin, famed author of Rosemary's Baby, among other books, got a lot of notice on the IWW's Writing conversation list -- more than did the death of Norman Mailer a few days before. Coincidentally, I'm reading a book by Michael Dirda called Classics for Pleasure; I'll review it for The Internet Review of Books. Dirda's calling our attention to a lot of good writing that's fallen by the wayside.

All this has made me think about the "immortality" all of us writers, in our heart of hearts, would love to have.

Take J.K. Rowling. More people have read her books than anybody else's recently, but will Harry Potter survive? When I was in the second grade, my father brought home a review copy of Speedy in Oz, which I devoured. Already a pest at a local second-hand shop, I went through the entire series of Oz books, probably thirty of them, as fast as I could -- the stuff they gave me to read in school was nothing compared to those magical thrillers. All the other reader kids read them, and a few years later they got a big boost from Judy Garland. The Wizard still shows up on TV now and then. But does anybody, I mean anybody, still read those books? Has anybody but ancients ever heard of L. Frank Baum?

Then there are all the novelists who made the best-seller lists back when I was younger. I loved the works of Rumer Godden, who died in 1998. Someone wrote her biography, and her estate is on the Web, but when I mentioned her a couple of years ago only one person among 500 writers knew who she was. Give it a couple more decades, and she'll join Booth Tarkington, whose Gentle Julia is the funniest book I ever read, in writer purgatory, along with such once-bright stars as Lew Wallace and E.D.E.N. Southworth.

And have any of you read anything by Marie Corelli, who was almost as popular as Dickens?

It's a crapshoot. No matter how good you are, no matter how famous your books may be right now, you're probably out of luck when it comes to the next generation. My guess is that when you're dead you'll have better things to do than worry about your literary fame. But writing is fun right now -- painful, back-breaking, frustrating, yes. But fun, don't you think? Hang in!

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