For a bibliophile and writer, there are many advantages to living in a literary town. Not the least of which is having a built in group of people with whom one can talk about books and writing. I participate in these conversations all the time with friends and acquaintances and even, sometimes, complete strangers. It would be a reasonable expectation that I, on occasion, have something to offer in these conversations. And, occasionally, I do. But most often, the conversation looks a lot like the one I just has this past Monday night.
Girl’s night in Oxford, Mississippi generally involves drinks and nonstop chatter about writers, writing, reading and publishing – at least, with my girlfriends it does. Since we are all writers and former students at the University of Mississippi, and since we have a hard time finding people willing to indulge our obsession with words outside of Oxford, we try to get together once or twice a year to gorge ourselves on word talk. Monday night, I walked into City Grocery, Oxford’s most literary bar only because it happens to be where Oxford’s writers tend to hang out. The girls were in mid sentence about something when I arrived, the last to the gathering. They each stood in their turn, giving me hugs and smiles, as we did the hello-how-are-you-how-have-you-been dance that we do once or twice every year. Then we all sat back down and the conversation resumed.
“So, anyway, Jack is obviously vying for the Barry Hannah role,” said one girl who writes both fiction and poetry.
“Jack who?” I wanted to know. The true poet in the group looked at me like I was from another planet.
“Pendarvis” she said, as if that should mean something to me.
The reactions were a mixture of disbelief and excitement. They all started talking at the same time. “You know…he’s been the writer-in-residence here for years.” “He wrote that book, Awesome.” “He has that blog with the funny title, what’s that blog called? Oh yeah. The Place Where Jack Pendarvis Has a Blog.” “He’s kind of average height, brown hair, you have to know who we’re talking about.”
I didn’t. And this is nothing new in my life. For someone who fancies herself a writer, I am oblivious to who’s hot. I’m oblivious to even those that are luke-warm. It’s not that I haven’t tried to remedy myself of this embarrassing deficiency. I have. I scan the web for lists of books that I “should” be reading. I ask friends in-the-know for suggestions. I hear about blogs devoted to the very subject all the time. But somehow, I forget the name of the author I just heard about who wrote that really great book about something I can’t recall and, truthfully, I’m too busy with my own blog to spend too terribly much time reading other’s people’s blogs. And this is a fault. I’m aware of that. And I’m working on it.
It’s not that I don’t read, mind you. I’m reading all the time. It’s just the relatively new, up and coming writers that I can’t seem to stay on top of. And it’s no wonder. According to the WorkProduct blog, there are something like 100,000 new English language novels published every year. If you say, okay, I’m only going to read contemporary literature (from 1975 to today, for example) – that’s 3.5 million novels to read before the end of the decade (15 days to go and counting). If you don’t quite make it, go ahead and add another 100,000 books to the list.
Score one for my ignorance.
Still, I need to be more proactive in attempting to read at least the books that are making some sort of splash in the literary world. A splash that it would seem everyone knows about but me. And really, I’m just talking about fiction here. The same dynamic lives and breathes, like a daunting monster in the closet, in the poetry and creative nonfiction worlds. What’s a girl to do? I suppose I could buy a book a week from Square Books – but even that doesn’t guarantee that I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Because, let’s face it. I don’t want to read crap. And there’s a lot of crap out there. Make no mistake. Even some of the splash-makers are crap. In fact, it could be that most of them are. I wouldn’t know because, as I’ve already admitted, I have no idea who the splash-makers are.
So here’s where I attempt to make the internet work for me. If you have a tried and true method of staying on top of the latest, greatest books out there (fiction, nonfiction, poetry), pulease share! Here’s your opportunity to stamp out ignorance and illiteracy, to save the future of print publications and thousands of starving puppies, to finally make the world a prettier, happier place. Or, at the very least, give me something to talk about at the next Oxford Ladies Poetry Society.