Let me introduce you to a new feature on this website – a guest blogger. This may become a regular feature. Today I’d like to introduce Stephen Gallup – the author of a memoir, What About the Boy? He blogs at fatherspledge.com.
A Community of Writers and Readers
“And are you a writer?”
This polite question was asked of my wife years ago, when I introduced her to my professor at a party. That professor’s byline frequently appeared under stories in The New Yorker, her first (of many) novels was coming out, and since the party was for her creative writing class, practically everyone around us aspired to similar success.
As it turns out, Judy did not write. But she had a ready comeback.
“No,” she said. “I’m a reader.”
Where indeed would writers be without readers?
The point is often made that a writer must also read—preferably in many genres—in order to stay up to speed with what others are doing. To some extent, the way a story is put together or the way language is used in it is a response to that context—not a final answer, of course, but one more statement in an ongoing conversation. That’s why, in my own first encounter with the above professor, she’d asked what authors I was reading. I mentioned Gogol and Tolstoy, but she shook her head impatiently. “Are you familiar with any current authors?” she asked.
“Well,” I said slowly, “I’m also partway into something called The Death of the Novel.” I named that one reluctantly, because it was very weird. I didn’t know how she’d react.
Actually, she liked that answer much better. “Ronald Sukenick is about as contemporary as you could get!” she said happily. (This was in the mid-70s. Thus far I wouldn’t say that Sukenick’s work has withstood the test of time as well as those others. I could go further and say his kind of experimentation was not the sort of thing newbie writers such as myself needed to be emulating, right out of the gate. Nevertheless, writers do have to venture beyond the classics, and indeed beyond whatever material they find most comfortable. The more we stretch, the more we learn.)
A book like Sukenick’s is probably intended specifically for other writers. Most books are not. A reader of a book like mine may pick it up as casually as any other small purchase, and will most certainly put it down again if it fails to connect. Such readers represent the true test of a book’s worth. Imagine the gratification I experience when a reader feels moved to contact me out of the blue—as when a woman in Atlanta wrote to say that What About the Boy? had spoken to her, even though she had no children of her own. Likewise, I was thrilled to receive a phone call one evening from the daughter of a deceased author, who’d written a memoir somewhat like mine many years ago.
On the other hand, thus far, few contemporary writers known to me have read WATB. (At least, they’ve had little to say about it.) Perhaps they think its focus on disability removes it from the body of works that constitute contemporary literature (those dealing with romance, murder, war, betrayal, globetrotting, growing up, etc.). Or perhaps the notion that it belongs is my own conceit. Determinations like that occur on another plane.
In my view, writers and readers alike exist in a loosely connected community. We communicate with what we say and don’t say. In writing my memoir, in reviewing the works of others, in responding to occasional requests for private critiques, and in taking questions on call-in radio shows, I hope to contribute value to this community.
As always, feedback on that is very welcome.
PS. There are two links in the second to last paragraph that do not show up well but if you scroll over them you can click on them for more. Jon