Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Privileged Rage of Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen has written a book about a writer once nicknamed the "Great Hater," and announced it with an essay in which he hated on a lot of things, including Twitter, Salman Rushdie, Jeff Bezos, Jennifer Weiner, the Mac guy in Apple's Mac vs. PC ads... the list is long.

While his jabs against Bezos and Rushdie have gotten the most attention, if you read the whole essay he actually comes across as somewhat sheepish about hating the modern world so much, ultimately acknowledging that "Maybe apocalypse is, paradoxically, always individual, always personal." But underneath that seeming self-awareness is an author who is unwilling to acknowledge that what makes him angry is the prospect of people like him losing their place of privilege as the world changes.

It's somewhat strange at first blush that Franzen, who once wrote an essay criticizing overly difficult books, is devoting an entire book to a satirist whose prose was intentionally dense so that it would only be appreciated by fellow sophisticates. In other words, Kraus's intent was not to write beautiful, if difficult prose, or to grapple with complicated concepts, but rather to create an artificial bar of entry, like a literary velvet rope from behind which he could sneer at those whom he deemed insufficiently enlightened to pass.

This is a prose of exclusivity and of a singular belief in the author's inherent superiority. Franzen is channeling and articulating his rage about the world through this particular author, whom he first read when his adolescent anger was stirring.

Franzen tries to head off charges of elitism against Kraus, saying:
Although Kraus could sound like an elitist, he wasn't in the business of denigrating the masses or lowbrow culture; the calculated difficulty of his writing wasn't a barricade against the barbarians. It was aimed, instead, at bright and well-educated cultural authorities who embraced a phony kind of individuality – people Kraus believed ought to have known better.
Ah yes. It's the phony individuality of "cultural authorities" that is worthy of critique, as opposed to would-be cultural authorities like Kraus/Franzen, who, it must be noted, are the real individuals.

The three straw men of the apocalypse

Very tellingly, this is the point in the essay where Franzen pivots to go on the attack, with the first of three irresponsible throwaway lines that show his unwillingness to grapple with the dark underside of the world he wants for us:
I confess to feeling some version of [Kraus's] disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter.  Or when a politically committed print magazine that I respect, N+1, denigrates print magazines as terminally "male," celebrates the internet as "female," and somehow neglects to consider the internet's accelerating pauperisation of freelance writers.
Franzen hates Twitter. Fine. Clearly he doesn't follow someone like Seinfeld Current Day, which is operating on three or four levels of satire with every 140-character tweet, but okay. His loss. (Here's Rushdie's response).

Instead, let's unpack the sneering false dichotomy Franzen sets up in the last line.

N+1 denigrated print magazines for being terminally male, maybe, ya know, because the magazines that publish essays by people like Jonathan Franzen still employ a vastly disproportionately male staff and publish vastly disproportionately articles and essays written by men. Even when women are published in these places, they are often speaking in defense of traditional gender roles. And meanwhile, the Internet, that terminal scourge of everything, is opening up new avenues for female voices, including, I should note, via Twitter.

Even if you accept that it's harder for freelance writers to make a living these days than it was in the past (Franzen doesn't provide evidence), he seems unwilling to accept a tradeoff between a world where female voices have greater prominence for one where it's harder for writers to make money.

Guess what: I'd make that trade! I find a world with more balanced voices better on the whole than one where writers have to hustle more to make a living. But it's a false choice to begin with. In the world we actually live in, the Internet is not currently preventing writers of the likes of, say, Jonathan Franzen, from profiting from having their work published online.

Ladies, please grab your laptops.

It's also telling, in a passage where he aims to demonstrate his beneficently open mind about the coming print apocalypse, Franzen takes a dig at Jennifer Weiner:
But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers.
I follow Jennifer Weiner on Twitter. She is opinionated, she is funny, and she does some hilarious Bachelor live-tweeting. I don't always agree with Weiner, but then again, there is no one in the world I always agree with.

What I don't see Jennifer Weiner doing is relentlessly self-promoting Jennifer Weiner's books. Seriously. Look at her Twitter feed and try to find a shameless plug for her books.

Perhaps what rankles Franzen instead is Weiner's steady critique of the New York Times Book Review, believing it to be sexist and elitist. Or, as Weiner herself postulates, perhaps Franzen was irked when Weiner used the term "Franzenfreude" to criticize the vast breadth of coverage of Freedom when it was released to the exclusion of, well, pretty much anything else.

The point that Weiner makes (and which Franzen to my knowledge has never tried to refute) is that it's convenient for Franzen to attack Twitter and self-promoting authors because he doesn't have to self-promote and doesn't need to be on Twitter because the print world and media establishment does it for him. He doesn't have to get down in the muck like the vast majority of the writers he's ostensibly advocating for. And he is plainly disdainful of having to do this icky work himself.

That brings us to the last appalling throwaway:
But I was born in 1959, when TV was something you watched only during prime time, and people wrote letters and put them in the mail, and every magazine and newspaper had a robust books section, and venerable publishers made long-term investments in young writers, and New Criticism reigned in English departments, and the Amazon basin was intact, and antibiotics were used only to treat serious infections, not pumped into healthy cows. It wasn't necessarily a better world (we had bomb shelters and segregated swimming pools), but it was the only world I knew to try to find my place in as a writer.
Yes, Franzen actually points to the '50s as a bastion of intellectual vigor and environmental stewardship. (I guess DDT and acid rain and Ozone depletion and pre-Clean Air Act pollution didn't count. Oh, and antibiotics for livestock were approved by the FDA in 1951.) It was a wondrously enlightened world, except for the whole segregated swimming pool thing.

Oh yeah, except for that.

The thing is, even though he's intelligent enough to know better, when you add these passages together it's hard to avoid the impression that Franzen is yearning for a world where someone like him can reap the maximum benefits from the system that existed in the past, nevermind if it was inextricably bound up in an environment where women and minorities were insufficiently represented. It was a world where publishers invested in young writers like him, where a patriarchal establishment got to decide what was good for everyone else and constrained the public's choices in advance, and there was no alternative outlet like the Internet to challenge that order.

Maybe Franzen wants it both ways, where everyone is serious and erudite and Twitter doesn't exist and also women and minorities are equally represented in the high cultural waters. But he never makes this case, preferring to snipe at the world as it changes without articulating how print establishments can preserve the things he loves while admitting a more balanced array of voices, something they're still failing to do in 2013.

Thankfully, there's the Internet. One man's apocalypse can look a lot like another person's opportunity.

Rage against the elderly German lady machine

To his partial credit, Franzen grasps that privilege is somehow bound up with his rage, but he seems vanishingly un-self-aware about it.

In a thrillingly bizarre and honest anecdote, Franzen ties the first stirrings of his young adult rage to women (noticing a theme?), namely to a penny-pinching German woman he had a bad experience with. He then throws coins on a train track, aiming to punish not just the individual woman but rather all the women like her in Germany, moving ever so deftly from disliking an individual to extrapolating to a broader group and never stopping to consider that someone who would willingly injure their hip stooping for coins very plainly needs the money he so blithely tossed away.

He was also upset at the time because he failed to have sex with a beautiful girl from Munich, which, he is careful to note, actually stemmed from his own decision rather than hers.

This passage has already been skewered deftly elsewhere, but I prefer to take it seriously. The genesis of Jonathan Franzen's rage stems not from experiencing injustice personally or from feeling an empathetic aching after seeing an injustice committed against someone else, but rather from being forced to forego the spoils he believes he is entitled to. The world simply isn't giving him what he wants. (The girl from Munich's thoughts on the matter do not seem to rate.)

Or, as Franzen writes about Karl Kraus:
I wonder if he was so angry because he was so privileged... the person who's been lucky in life can't help expecting the world to keep going his way; when the world insists on going wrong ways, corrupt and tasteless ways, he feels betrayed by it. And so he gets angry, and the anger itself further isolates him and heightens his sense of specialness.
Even though he sees this quality in Kraus, Franzen can't seem to connect the dots that he was born into a world that was pivoted to his unique benefit and he wants it to stay that way as long as possible. So he zeroes in on those parts of the world that are changing in "corrupt and tasteless ways" of his own definition, which just happen to be things that potentially stand in the way of his continued privilege, particularly the disruption of traditional publishers and bookselling. (Ironically enough, the print institutions Franzen wishes to preserve were the disruptors Kraus hated in his day.)

Then Franzen turns those things around on us. This is not about his wishes and desires. No. It is for the well-being of the rest of us that we must preserve institutions and cultures that have heretofore existed to the extreme benefit of people like Franzen.

The thing is, he isn't wrong about everything. The disruption of traditional publishing could lead to a race to the lowest common denominator or an Amazonian monopoly. Twitter really does sometimes lend itself more readily to mass freakouts and personal attacks than to thoughtful discourse. We do need to be mindful of being thoughtful and stopping to think once and a while as the world speeds up and changes so fast. But instead of articulating those cases, Franzen would rather just hate.

What makes Franzen a crank instead of a critic is that he is less successful at attacking things on their merits than he is at bemoaning that the world is changing in a direction that does not directly benefit him. Instead of making a compelling case for why the world as a whole would be better off if the things he hates ceased to exist or if society changed course, he attacks with false dichotomies, straw men, and ahistorical false utopias.

And that gets to the core of it. Rage is ultimately about impotence. It occurs when less intense negative feelings like frustration or anger aren't given an outlet and are instead bottled up until the person's emotions eventually boil over.

Living today in a more enlightened world than the one he craves, Franzen can't very well go about advocating directly that people like him should enjoy still greater privilege. That leaves a second option for an outlet, which is to adapt to the world as it changes, something Franzen is resolutely unwilling to do.

Thus, rage and hating. But much like the Incredible Hulk or a hysterical toddler, people who rage can only destroy things. They never win an argument or build a palliative alternative.

So much the better. Franzen can have his impotent rage. We'll go on changing for the better.

Art: Knabe mit Schwesterchen by Albert Anker Schreibender 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do you re-read your books when you're finished writing them?

I was at an awesome reading a few weeks ago where author Megan Abbott mentioned that she never re-reads her books when they're finished.

This struck a chord with me. I don't either. By the time a book is done and finished and out there in the world it's really hard for me to revisit it. When I dip into my books, not only do I see paragraphs I wish I'd cleaned up and small missed opportunities, but it just doesn't feel right for some reason.

I can't even read the Spanish translation! I have always half-thought that the Spanish versions of the Jacob Wonderbar novels are like Spanish/English tutorials made just for me, but even in that form I can't bear to revisit the story.

It's kind of like running into an ex on the street. "I'm sorry, we had a great time together, it's nothing personal, but I've moved on to other novels."

Am I just crazy? Do you ever dip into your old novels and surprise yourself with parts you forgot writing? Is there a fun re-reading experience I'm missing out on? 

Art: An Old Man Reading by Willem van Mieris

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Publication alert: Until It Hurts to Stop by Jennifer Hubbard

Jennifer Hubbard's The Secret Year was one of the first YA novels I sold, and it remains one of my favorite YA novels I've ever read. It tells the story of a boy who has a secret relationship with a girl who dies as the novel opens. He's the only living person who knew the connection they'd had.

Jennifer followed that with the equally amazing Try Not to Breathe, about a boy who is trying to rejoin life after a suicide attempt. (It received starred reviews basically everywhere).

And today marks the publication of Until It Hurts to Stop, which is about a bullied girl who is still waiting for the other shoe to drop even after her tormenters have moved on. She escapes by climbing mountains and with a new friend, until her worst enemy moves back to town.

Jennifer Hubbard is a true master of YA, and I'm so honored to have worked with her. I haven't actually read Until It Hurts to Stop and it's is the first published book of Jennifer's I wasn't involved in, which is a bittersweet feeling! I can't wait to dive in.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bestselling Nonfiction Books by Year

Last Wednesday I listed the Bestselling Novels by Year.

Here are the bestselling nonfiction books by year (source source source source source source source), along with the Modern Library's list of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time.

What's interesting to me about this list is the extent to which celebrity books and self-help were prevalent even in the first half of the 20th century.

Also, unlike the list of novels, there was only one book that was both the bestselling nonfiction book of its year as well as on the list of the 100 best nonfiction books: The Education of Henry Adams, published in 1919, which also happens to be the #1 best nonfiction book according to Modern Library.

What do you make of the list?

1901: Unavailable
  (Also published: Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington)
1902: Unavailable
  (Also published: The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James)
1903: Unavailable
  (Also published: The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, Principia Ethica by George Moore)
1904: Unavailable
1905: Unavailable
1906: Unavailable
1907: Unavailable
1908: Unavailable
1909: Unavailable
  (Also published: The Promise of American Life by Herbert Croly)
1910: Unavailable
1911: Unavailable
1912The Promised Land by Mary Antin
1913: Crowds by Gerald Stanley Lee
  (Also published: The Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell)
1914: Unavailable
1915: Unavailable
1916: Unavailable
1917Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert W. Service
  (Also published: On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson)
1918Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert W. Service
  (Also published: Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey)
1919The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams*
  (Also published: The American Language by H. L. Mencken)
1920Now It Can Be Told by Philip Gibbs
  (Also published: The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner)
1921The Outline of History by H.G. Wells
1922The Outline of History by H.G. Wells
  (Also published: Religion And The Rise Of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney)
1923Etiquette by Emily Post
1924Diet and Health by Lulu Hunt Peters
1925Diet and Health by Lulu Hunt Peters
  (Also published: In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams)
1926The Man Nobody Knows by Bruce Barton
  (Also published: Autobiographies by W. B. Yeats)
1927The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant
  (Also published: Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster)
1928Disraeli by Andre Marouis
1929: The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet
  (Also published: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves, A Preface to Morals by Walter Lippmann)
1930The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe
1931Education of a Princess by Grand Duchess Marie
  (Also published: Philosophy and Civilization by John Dewey)
1932The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams
  (Also published: Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot by T. S. Eliot)
1933Life Begins at Forty by Walter B. Pitkin
  (Also published: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein)
1934While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott
1935North to the Orient by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  (Also published: The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield)
1936Man the Unknown by Alexis Carrell
1937How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  (Also published: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes, Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen)
1938The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang
  (Also published: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell)
1939Days of Our Years by Pierre van Paassen
  (Also published: Studies in Iconology by Erwin Panofsky)
1940I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson
  (Also published: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, A Mathematician's Apology by G. H. Hardy)
1941Berlin Diary by William L. Shirer
  (Also published: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Dame Rebecca West)
1942See Here, Private Hargrove by Marion Hargrove
  (Also published: West With the Night by Beryl Markham)
1943Under Cover by John Roy Carlson
  (Also published: Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr)
1944I Never Left Home by Bob Hope
  (Also published: An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal)
1945Brave Men by Ernie Pyle
  (Also published: Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Age of Jackson by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Open Society by Karl Popper)
1946The Egg and I by Betty McDonald
1947Peace of Mind by Johsua L. Liebman
1948Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower
  (Also published: Jefferson and His Time by Dumas Malone, The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter)
1949White Collar Zoo by Clare Barnes Jr.
1950Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book by Betty Crocker
  (Also published: The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling)
1951Look Younger, Live Longer by Gayelord Hauser
1952The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
  (Also published: Vermeer by Lawrence Gowing)
1953The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
  (Also published: The Mirror and the Lamp by Meyer Howard Abrams, The Second World War by Winston Churchill)
1954The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version
  (Also published: Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein, Science and Civilisation in China by Joseph Needham, Melbourne by David Cecil)
1955Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  (Also published: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward)
1956Arthritis and Common Sense, rev. ed. by Dan Dale Alexander
  (Also published: The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling)
1957Kids Say the Darndest Things! by Art Linklater
1958Kids Say the Darndest Things! by Art Linklater
  (Also published: The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith)
1959'Twixt Twelve and Twenty by Pat Boone
  (Also published: The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain)
1960Folk Medicine by D.C. Jarvis
  (Also published: Art and Illusion by Ernest H. Gombrich)
1961The New English Bible: The New Testament
  (Also published: A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee, The City in History by Lewis Mumford, Contours of American History by William Appleman Williams)
1962Calories Don't Count by Dr. Herman Taller
  (Also published: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn)
1963Happiness Is a Warm Puppy by Charles M. Schultz
  (Also published: The Making of the English Working Class by E. P. Thompson)
1964Four Days by American Heritage and United Press International
  (Also published: Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr., Shadow and ACT by Ralph Ellison)
1965How To Be a Jewish Mother by Dan Greenburg
  (Also published: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley)
1966How to Avoid Probate by Norman F. Dacey
  (Also published: The Art of Memory by Frances A. Yates, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
1967Death of a President by William Manchester
  (Also published: The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science by Peter B. Medawar, Children of Crisis by Robert Coles)
1968Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
  (Also published: The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson)
1969American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language by William Morris, editor
  (Also published: Present at the Creation by Dean Acheson)
1970Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask by David Reuben
1971The Sensuous Man by "M"
  (Also published: A Theory of Justice by John Rawls)
1972The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor
  (Also published: Great Bridge by David McCullough)
1973The Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor
1974The Total Woman by Maribel Morgan
  (Also published: The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas, The Civil War by Shelby Foote, Working by Studs Terkel, The Power Broker by Robert Caro)
1975Angels: God's Secret Agents by Billy Graham
  (Also published: The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard)
1976The Final Days by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  (Also published: The Face of Battle by John Keegan)
1977Roots by Alex Haley
  (Also published: Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate)
1978If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries--What Am I Doing in the Pits? by Erma Bombeck
1979Aunt Erma's Cope Book by Erma Bombeck
  (Also published: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris)
1980Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression by Douglas R. Casey
1981The Beverly Hills Diet by Judy Mazel
  (Also published: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould)
1982Jane Fonda's Workout Book by Jane Fonda
  (Also published: The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan D. Spence)
1983In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.
  (Also published: James Joyce by Richard Ellmann, Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith)
1984Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca with William Novak
1985Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca with William Novak
1986Fatherhood by Bill Cosby
  (Also published: Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner)
1987Time Flies by Bill Cosby
1988The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure by Robert E. Kowalski
  (Also published: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson, A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan)
1989All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum
  (Also published: Darkness Visible by William Styron, This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff)
1990A Life on the Road by Charles Kuralt
  (Also published: The Ants by E. O. Wilson and Bert Hölldobler, The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow, The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, The Taming of Chance by Ian Hacking)
1991Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn
  (Also published: The Rise of the West by William H. McNeill)
1992The Way Things Ought To Be by Rush Limbaugh
1993See, I Told You So by Rush Limbaugh
1994In the Kitchen with Rosie by Rosie Daley
  (Also published: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott)
1995Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray
  (Also published: The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman)
1996Make the Connection by Oprah Winfrey
1997Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
  (Also published: The Proper Study of Mankind by Isaiah Berlin)
1998The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman
1999Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
2000Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
2001The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson
2002Self Matters by Dr. Phil McGraw
2003The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren
2004The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren
2005Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau
2006The Innocent Man by John Grisham
2007: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
2008The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
2009Going Rogue: An American Life by Sarah Palin
2010Decision Points by George W. Bush
2011Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
2012No Easy Day by Mark Owen

*Bestseller also on the list of Top 100 nonfiction books of all time

Art: Vanitas still life by Adam Bernaert

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Rory Gilmore reading challenge

Rory Gilmore from "The Gilmore Girls" was filmed reading no fewer than 339 books over the course of the show.

Now you can take the Rory Gilmore reading challenge to see how you stack up. How many of those 339 have you read?

Me: 88

Monday, September 9, 2013

Writing and Loneliness

I don't find the act of writing to be a lonely one. There's something about the concentration, the empathy required to imagine what characters think and do, and being immersed in another place that never makes you feel you're actually by yourself. It's comforting to have the control over an imagined world that we can never have in the real one.

But the act of writing is a solitary one, and the writing life forces you to shut off the outside world for long stretches of time. To complete a huge task like a novel you have to say no to outings with friends and time spent in the sunshine, and choose instead to chain yourself to your computer or notepad and stare at it for hours on end. And because you have to spend so much time writing, you might not leave enough time for friendships and fun.

Writing might not inspire loneliness, but the writing lifestyle definitely can.

There was a really moving article in Slate last month about the dangers of loneliness. According to studies, the health dangers of social isolation and loneliness is comparable to smoking, and twice as dangerous as obesity.

It can be difficult to fess up to loneliness, or even to recognize that it's behind what's ailing you. As the article points out, doctors don't ever ask how many meaningful social interactions you're getting and there is a social stigma for admitting to this kind of a problem. Even if you're surrounded by people, sometimes there's a tendency to retreat inward and cut off the outside world.

And for writers, there's a temptation when confronted with loneliness to simply channel that back into your writing, to escape back into the company of your characters and to lose yourself in books until the dark feelings pass.

But that's a temporary fix, and it can start a dangerous cycle. Characters aren't substitutes for people, and it's important to balance your writing time with meaningful relationships and time away from the computer.

Don't let your zeal to finish a novel cut away at the rest of your life. Take your time, find great relationships, get the help you need if you need it, heck, contact me if you need to, and make sure that you're cultivating life as much as your work.

Art: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bestselling Novels by Year

Last Wednesday, I suggested that there was no golden era where everyone was reading complex literary fiction.

Is that actually true? Did past readers have more refined taste in fiction than we do now?

Here's a list of the bestselling novel by year from 1900 to the present (source), along with the books published that same year that were part of Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels.

What do you make of this list?

1900To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston
  Also published: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
1901: The Crisis by Winston Churchill (note: the American novelist)
  Also published: Kim by Rudyard Kipling
1902: The Virginian by Owen Wister
  Also published: Wings of the Dove by Henry James
1903: Lady Rose's Daughter by Mary Augusta Ward
  Also published: Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler, The Ambassadors by Henry James, The Call of the Wild by Jack London
1904: The Crossing by Winston Churchill
  Also published: The Golden Bowl by Henry James, Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
1905: The Marriage of William Ashe by Mary Augusta Ward
  Also published: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
1906: Coniston by Winston Churchill
1907: The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little
  Also published: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
1908: Mr. Crewe's Career by Winston Churchill
  Also published: A Room With a View by E.M. Forster, The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett
1909: The Inner Shrine by Basil King
1910: The Rosary by Florence Barclay
  Also published: Howard's End by E.M. Forster
1911: The Broad Highway by Jeffrey Farnol
  Also published: Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
1912: The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter
1913: The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill
  Also published: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
1914: The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright
1915: The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington
  Also published: The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
1916: Seventeen by Booth Tarkington
1917: Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H.G. Wells
  Also published: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
1918: The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
  Also published: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
1919: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by V. Blasco Ibanez
  Also published: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
1920: The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey
  Also published: The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
1921: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis*
1922: If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchison
  Also published: Ulysses by James Joyce
1923: Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton
1924: So Big by Edna Ferber
  Also published: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford
1925: Soundings by A. Hamilton Gibbs
  Also published: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
1926: The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine
  Also published: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest  Hemingway
1927: Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
  Also published: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
1928The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder*
  Also published: Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley
1929: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  Also published: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
1930: Cimarron by Edna Ferber
  Also published: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
1931: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  Also published: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1932The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  Also published: Light in August by William Faulkner, Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
1933: Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen
1934Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen
  Also published: I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara, Tender is the Nighta by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
1935: Green Light by Lloyd C. Douglas
  Also published: Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell
1936: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1937Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1938: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
  Also published: U.S.A. by John Dos Passos, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
1939: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck*
  Also published: The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
1940: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  Also published: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Native Son by Richard Wright
1941: The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin
1942: The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel
1943: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
1944: Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith
1945: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
  Also published: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Loving by Henry Green
1946: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier
  Also published: Animal Farm by George Orwell, All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
1947: The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney
  Also published: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
1948: The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas
  Also published: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
1949: The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
  Also published: 1984 by George Orwell, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
1950: The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson
1951: From Here to Eternity by James Jones*
  Also published: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
1952: The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
  Also published: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1953: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
  Also published: Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin, The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
1954: Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson
  Also published: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
1955: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
  Also published: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
1956: Don't Go Near the Water by William Brinkley
1957: By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens
  Also published: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
1958: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
1959: Exodus by Leon Uris
  Also published: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
1961: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
  Also published: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipul, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
1962: Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter
  Also published: Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
1963: The Shoes of Fisherman by Morris L. West
1964: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre
1965: The Source by James A. Michener
1966: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  Also published: The Magus by John Fowles, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
1967: The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
  Also published: The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever
1968: Airport by Arthur Hailey
1969: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth*
  Also published: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
1970: Love Story by Erich Segal
  Also published: Deliverance by James Dickey
1971: Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  Also published: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1972: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
1973Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
1974: Centennial by James A. Michener
1975: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow*
1976: Trinity by Leon Uris
1977The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
1978: Chesapeake by James A. Michener
1979: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
  Also published: A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipul, Sophie's Choice by William Styron
1980: The Covenant by James A. Michener
1981: Noble House by James Clavell
  Also published: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
1982: E.T. the Extraterrestrial Storybook by William Kotzwinkle
1983: Return of the Jedi Storybook by Joan D. Vinge
  Also published: Ironweed by William Kennedy
1984: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel
1986: It by Stephen King
1987: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
1988: The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy
1989: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy 
1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
1991Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" by Alexandra Ripley
1992: Dolores Claiburne by Stephen King
1993: The Bridges of Madison County by James Robert Waller
1994: The Chamber by John Grisham
1995: The Rainmaker by John Grisham
1996: The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
1997: The Partner by John Grisham
1998: The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
1999: The Testament by John Grisham
2000: The Brethern by John Grisham
2001: Desecration by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
2002: The Summons by John Grisham
2003: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
2004: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
2005: The Broker by John Grisham
2006: For One More Day by Mitch Albom
2007: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
2008: The Appeal by John Grisham
2009: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
2011: The Litigators by John Grisham
2012: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

*Bestseller also on list of Top 100 novels

Art: The Bibliophilist's Haunt or Creech's Bookshop by William Fettes Douglas

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