Wolfe, Le Guin, the Fictional Dream… Oh, and Richard Russo Returns

May 3, 2019 — So I stopped by my mom’s house the other day to drop off some books and a rather large blue vase she wanted. But instead of just running out the door I sat down with her and talked about a lot of things. It made me realize I don’t do that enough, have those sort of meandering conversations that run into a variety of topics for no other reason than we just want to share our time, thoughts and perspective with people we love.

For those that don’t know, my mom is a retired librarian, so of course the subject did eventually turn to books and writing and publishing. (Librarians are always worth talking to, they tend to have some of the best informed opinions on the planet.) Anyway, three author’s in particular came up, Gene Wolfe, Ursula Le Guin and Richard Russo and how hard it is for established authors to keep getting published as they age, especially if the present fashions of publishing has turned to something else despite being great writers. And how some just seem to disappear from the shelves of new editions after years of their books being constants.  Or worse, how some have to turn to having their names used as marketing tools for new writers. In the face of this, one wonders if they just stopped writing.

But then you look at Le Guin and Wolfe, whose later works were not as popular as their earlier ones, but who kept writing great fiction anyway. They were established authors, but I also believe they were true artists and that’s why they continued to write the stories they wanted to write and not succumb to some trend. And it was their dedication and ability within their art that kept them at it. To write anything else to please the current fashion, I think, would have damaged their writing somehow.

Both Le Guin and Wolfe were able to create what John Gardner called “the fictional dream.” It’s a clever phrase and to me it means simply this: That when you read their work you feel like you are truly in the head of another person, seeing and feeling their world from inside their minds and bodies, yet you know you are still yourself. It’s a wonderful and somewhat disconcerting feeling and as fantastic as the worlds and story might appear, it makes it seem all the more real. It’s hard to do.

Well, Gene and Ursula have gone on and they will be missed. But as we talked about writers we haven’t heard form in a while, and whether they’d been dropped by the market, when Richard Russo came up. I really love his writing and I said it’s too bad we haven’t seen something new from him in a while and I hoped that we would soon.

Then I went home and was going through my social media feed (a chore I’d wanted to abandon but couldn’t due to some odd circumstances) when I got a delightful notice that Russo has a new book, Chances Are…, coming out at the end of July. Isn’t it great when that happens. One moment, you’re talking about someone or something and wondering what’s been happening with them and all of a sudden, you get a news like that.

I can say I’m very pleased and can’t wait to pick it up and read it. Now, here’s where Russo fits in with Wolfe and Le Guin for me. I don’t love every story that Wolfe, Le Guin and Russo have written, but I do love their writing. They’re true writers. As long as they were and are breathing, they’re writing and creating the fictional dream. We just have to make sure we make time for them.

Which brings me to my last point, which is about time and spending it on the right things. You see, like many people, I have obligations and demands for my time and too often, the things we want to and need to do in life get pushed aside. We live in a world where face-to-face conversations can be difficult to have. Instead, we rush to work and spend hours there and even take that work home with us, where it can continue to eat away at our time. We rush to get the kids to school or the myriad of other activities they have and we rush to get through the daily chores of keeping up homes and then, we take a little time to try and stay connected with friends and families by reading through newsfeeds on social media, letting people we like what they are doing or sharing some accomplishments. It’s a convenient way to stay in touch, but its a shadow of the type of connection and joy you have from an actual conversation and it’s one reason I find social media so isolating.

But this time issue, it’s not a new thing, though I do believe it’s gotten worse.

There’s a 1994 movie called The Paper (Still one of my favorites) in which Robert Duvall’s character is explaining to Jason Alexander’s character how there’s not enough time in the world for everyone and everything that wants a piece of you. So you end up shorting the people you think will give you a break, the people who know you the best and who, hopefully, will understand why you’re doing it. Namely, the very people who should be the ones you spend the most time with — your friends and family.

I know I need to start making time for the people I really love and want in my life. I also need to make time for the writers I love and the writing I love to do. So, I’m trying.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough and have lots of stuff to do — like I said.

— Rob



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