Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My favorite writers are middle-aged

I came to a strange but inescapable conclusion when I found myself largely unmoved by the New Yorker's "20 Under 40": the writers that thrill me most tend to be of a different generation than me. Rivka Galchen, off of the New Yorker list, is brilliant both in person and on the page (as I discovered at the Brooklyn Literary Festival and in reading Atmospheric Disturbances, respectively); and, before this, I felt bad that Sarah Shun-lien Bynum hadn't gotten more attention for her rendition of the same song that won Olive Kitteridge the Pulitzer Prize. put together a good alternate list which includes Myla Goldberg, whose Bee Season finally taught me, at the age of 20, not to judge books by covers, and which inspired me to aim big in writing my own first novel.

Still, I realize, my favorites -- and the authors of some of the #BooksThatChangedMyWorld, as Susan Orlean put it yesterday -- are not the bright young things, or at least, not anymore. They are, in fact, either Middle-Aged, British, or Dead (though rarely all three at once):

  • Jonathan Franzen (middle-aged)
  • David Mitchell (British)
  • Ann Patchett (buying a Corvette as we speak)
  • Susanna Clarke (Limey)
  • Jane Austen (dead)
  • Dorothy Sayers (as-a-doornail)
  • Michael Chabon (menopausal)
  • Anne Lamott (grandmother!)
  • Marilynne Robinson (virtually a crone)
  • Dorothy Parker (worm-meat, but hopefully happy at last)
Some books #ChangedMyWorld at the time but have since faded comfortably into the ether:
  • Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City and Tom Robbins's Still Life with Woodpecker taught me that there was life outside my Jewish Day School. WAY outside.
  • Bridge to Terebithia -- Wait, you mean people you love can *die*?
  • The Princess Bride -- And life isn't fair?
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry -- And there's serious, endemic injustice built into the system? (This series affected me even more strongly than To Kill a Mockingbird. Though I loved them both.)
  • Midnight's Children -- And other countries have stories worth hearing?
  • Gone With the Wind -- And the South was a victim in the Civil War? (I believed this for about five minutes, until my father sat me down to have a chat. Still, that was a very disorienting five minutes.)
  • The Mists of Avalon -- And patriarchy has not always been the default operating system of every functioning society in the world?
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- And something really funny can still be profound?
  • Slaughterhouse Five and Vonnegut in general -- ditto. That's a lesson I never stop learning.
NOTE: If you want to complain about the "20 Under 40" list, Gawker has created a handy-dandy How To guide. Have at it!

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