Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Essay Faire

Dear Future Readers of My Book,

First of all, thanks for all the notes and questions about the book. If you are new here, I have a book coming out next year. I’d give you a more specific date, but it’s been changed three times already. I have been assured that this most recent date is the real and final publishing date, but when my editor said that I said “Uh-HUH, okay!” in the bright and superficially supportive way I used to when friends would swear to me that their fifth trip to rehab was going to be the one that stuck. As soon as we all agree on a title, you will know that as well. Marketing has yet to be sent into raptures over a title suggestion of mine and, in publishing as in nearly everywhere else in the explored world, we need to make Marketing happy. But right now, I want to you to know what I am doing for you, the reader. Even more than Marketing, I work for you and you are a stern taskmaster, you are.

Because of you, I read nothing which would make me happy. There is a new David Sedaris book in the stores; it’s been there since late May. I have not bought it, nor have I looked through it at Borders, even when it called to me sweetly from behind a copy of Teen Cosmo. There is a new Sarah Vowell book out shortly; I have not bought it in advance on Amazon. And it’s not just the written word, either.This American Life plays every single week on NPR, and I turn it off if anyone more compelling than an insurance actuary has written a segment. I heard David Rakoff’s voice on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and after I turned off the radio I fell into a self-pitying fugue state for the rest of the afternoon. I do this because I love you.

I also do this because I am very much like tofu, in that I absorb the flavors of whatever writer is being smart, self-deprecating and quirky near me. If I read or hear the Davids (Rakoff or Sedaris), I end up sounding like the poor man’s gay man. And, believe me, when you grow up in a gay neighborhood and then you go into the entertainment industry and you live for a while with a bunch of gay men and then you move to the Castro district in San Francisco and you kind of look like Liza Minnelli in the wrong light, you’re very nearly a gay man as it is.

I can’t read Anne Lamott right now because if I read her, I start thinking I have something to say to or about God. She writes about her faith so simply and lucidly that a person starts to think, “Why, I’m having doubts, just as Anne had doubts! I should write about those doubts and then overcome them with prayer!” forgetting that I can certainly shake a doubt loose or two with the best of them but I find that prayer isn’t always as effective for me as reading essays by the Davids, which I can’t do now. So, no Anne.

I can’t read Sarah Vowell because her voice walks confidently into my head and sets fire to mine. Sarah has an encyclopedic knowledge of history, and such a seemingly effortless way of finding the small human voices in the shouting tumult of American history that illuminate the bigger picture. If pressed, I remember something about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

[Actually, I did find something recently that I liked. As I have mentioned before, my favorite royal family were the Bourbons of Spain, for no better reason than they did some of the most unapologetic inbreeding seen in a royal family since the Egyptians. Searching for something else in Wikipedia, I found a picture of a Bourbon, and I found a picture of his family tree, which is less tree than double-helix of cousin-marrying. He was related to his own great-grandmother fourteen times over. Oh, how I love the Spanish Bourbons.]

Recently, I learned that Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff and members of the Sedaris family are friends, which made some sort of horrible sense. It’s like a lunch-table I can only peer at longingly. God knows, I can’t read it.

It goes on. I can’t read Bailey White, or Jean Kerr, or Erma Bombeck. I can read lesser essay writers, but why would I want to do that? I could read fiction, but I don’t want fiction. I could read science books, but I don’t want science books. Like my friends who have drifted down the path of Atkins, gazing at a plate piled high with bacon and steak, weeping piteously for a Saltine, I want the thing I cannot have the tiniest bit of right now. I want essays, good ones. I want my book finished so I can go back to being the kind of person who when asked “How’s the book?” will only think of the paperback jammed in her purse and will say happily, “It’s great, you should read it.”

10 Comments:

Blogger Tom Moran said...

Have you thought about reading Gibbon? :-Þ

7:34 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

Our libraries are markedly similar. I don't really have to read Jean Kerr directly anymore as I can quote so much of her work from memory. So I won't even mention Sloane Crossley to you right now.

I have to put the fun books away whenever it's time to learn a script.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read your book. Good gosh you're right about the inbred Bourbon, it looks as if his face is imploding.

Kathy

4:00 PM  
Anonymous spleeness said...

Aw, I feel for you. It's like being starving so your cooking won't be influenced.

Well if you want essays, Craigslist "best of" section is great... hilarious rants from ordinary folk.

4:02 PM  
Blogger rebecca said...

Also, Betty MacDonald -- whom we knew, and loved, when we were children, as the author of the "Mrs. Pigglewiggle" books, but who also wrote the very funny "The Egg and I" (made into a less funny but more well-known movie) and the also extremely funny and extremely resonant (to those of us who suddenly have teenage daughters) "Onions in the Stew." What a voice Betty had. Perfect temptation for unintentional mimicry.

Also Shirley Jackson. Best known for the extremely disturbing short story "The Lottery" and novella "The Haunting of Hill House" -- but whose "Raising Demons" and "Life Among the Savages" are classic and dead-on hilarilous observations of the eccentric family life.

But the QC report is absolutely in line with this canon. Keep it up! Can't wait for the book.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

Amen. I've been reading trashy supernatural romances for two months now to avoid changing my "voice" like a chameleon. Nothing whatsoever wrong with supernatural romances - excellent and soothing fluff for times of intense stress - but I have had it up to my eyeballs with it. I need acerbic, smart, witty like eating a slice of lemon after a rich meal.

And now you've put more writers on the list I cna't read. Sigh...

6:54 PM  
Blogger K said...

I, too, am a voice adopter, but I find myself blogging after reading your blog and adopting your style...

5:06 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Oh dear, yes. The bookstore does become somewhat of a busman's holiday. But still, there must always be room for the late, great Mrs. Kerr.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Chatty said...

I so love David Sedaris. And Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck are both goddesses to me...
But I know whereof you speak. Even though I am NOT a professional and soon-to-be-published writer like some I could mention (take a bow, Quinn!) - every time I read those people (and many like them), my blog posts seem to take on a tinge style of those I've been reading...*sigh*
Lately, I've been watching P.G. Wodehouse Playhouse - the way he has his characters talk always cracks me up - then, I notice that I'm getting veddy veddy British (not to mention dated) in the way I talk for the next few hours!
I am getting SO excited about the book - whatever they call it and however they promote it - it's going to be a HUGE hit, and you deserve it!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Lately I've been reading too much Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton and William Joyce.

Does your book rhyme?

8:04 PM  

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