by Vicraj Gill
If you caught our “Year in Reading: Books By Bloomers Edition” roundup last week, you’ll no doubt have seen Bloomers whose 2013 books were favorites—Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, or Eric Barnes’s Something Pretty, Something Beautiful. Kushner also gets nods in the New Yorker’s year-end lists, from Rebecca Mead and James Wood. Wood also has good things to say about Jamie Quatro, a writer in her early 40s whose debut story collection I Want to Show You More has been making waves since its publication.
The year-end best-of stuff continues at Flavorwire, whose list of “The 10 Best Debut Novels of 2013” features two authors who debuted near or after 40: Caleb Crain of the much-lauded Necessary Errors, and Ayana Mathis of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie fame.
It took Hanya Yanagihara about 20 years to write The People in the Trees (2013). She started it at age 21, she tells Gabe Habash at Publisher’s Weekly, but didn’t get around to completing and submitting it to publishers until 2011, when she was 38; no one even saw the manuscript until 2009. She humorously attributes the various delays in the writing process to laziness, but the long years of work clearly had their benefits. Her tone matured as time passed, she says, and her perspectives on her protagonist softened. She also came to find that the book’s story, an imaginative take on Hawaii’s colonization, was one she had to tell.
Author Paul Lynch published his first novel, Red Sky at Morning (2013), at 36; but he came to write his book the same way Yanagihara did: in an interview earlier this year, he described the way his own expectations of himself as a writer paralyzed him in his 20s, until “the realization came that I had to start now, and that it was okay to fail, that failing was what it was all about, and that if it took 10 years or 20 years to be any good, then it didn’t matter—the point was to start.” A new interview in The Daily Beast expands on that inspiring perspective. “Learn to be kind to yourself, because writing is hard and it will bash you up. Learn that . . . your only competition is time, which is the truest judge.”
The New York Public Library’s LIVE series brings us a conversation with Toni Morrison (who debuted at 39 with The Bluest Eye) and This Is How You Lose Her (2012) author Junot Díaz, who acknowledges Morrison as his foremost literary inspiration. The two talk about race and publishing, the genesis of novels like Beloved (1987), squeezing in time to write while working, and more. You can see the pair’s exchange here. (Skip to 40:09 for the conversation.)
At the LA Review of Books, Diana Wagman’s review of Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing becomes an investigation of writing as “hard, grubby work” for which “[t]here is no advice you can give except to just do it.” Wagman’s descriptions of the “writer who works a day job” and “squeezes in 20 minutes after her children have gone to bed and the dishes are done and the laundry folded” sounds a lot like some of the folks we’ve covered here at Bloom: Jane Gardam, for instance, or Penelope Fitzgerald.
Also at LARB, a piece from F.X. Feeney on the novelist and short story writer J.F. Powers. Powers, as Feeney notes, isn’t much read or talked about today. But he was a big deal in the 1940s and 50s for his mastery of the short story in such collections as Prince of Darkness and Other Stories (1947) and The Presence of Grace (1956). And it was “in mid-life,” Feeney notes, that Powers beat Vladimir Nabokov and Katherine Anne Porter to win the National Book Award for his first novel, Morte d’Urban (1963), which he published at 45. See the piece for more on that “unforgettable, unique, and deadly funny” book.
Over at Brain Pickings, information design agency Accurat gives us a graphic analysis of “The Creative Pace of the 20th Century’s Greatest Authors,” including Bloomers Sherwood Anderson and Henry Miller. Individual charts map authors’ ages at the time of their first, second, third, and fourth best books, using the Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. While we at Bloom don’t believe in a strict “success timeline,” the information in the graphic and the inventive way it’s presented is fascinating. (Thanks to Thomas Beckwith at The Millions for the tip.)
Bloomer Meg Pokrass just announced a new “novella-in-flash,” Here, Where We Live, to be published by Rose Metal Press in 2014. We took a look at Pokrass’s flash fiction back in June, and sat down with her for a great Q&A—check it out here.