Anthony Trollope, the Victorian novelist, was a married postal clerk who wrote forty-seven novels, two plays, eighteen travel books, and dozens of short stories. Dame Barbara Cartland, another Brit, wrote 722 novels, averaging one book every forty days of her career. Spaniard Corín Tellado wrote 4,000 novellas.
Meanwhile, J.D. Salinger wrote four books, the last in 1963, though his Catcher in the Rye was still selling 250,000 copies a year up to his death in 2010. Sixty years (1934-1994) passed between Henry Roth’s first and second novels, Call It Sleep and Mercy of a Rude Stream. Harper Lee wrote one astounding novel, won the Pulitzer, and never published again.
Most of us are somewhere between these writers. We’re not word-volcanoes spewing stories, nor do we champion the myth of “writer’s block.” We still fall into two categories, though: waterwheels or hummingbirds.
“Classic—a book which people praise and don’t read.” – Mark Twain
If you went to a normal American high school, then you probably sat through normal American litorture—that’s my horrible hybrid word of “literature” and “torture.” Maybe you listened to Faulkner’s Sound and endured his Fury, or said Farewell to Hemingway’s Arms. Maybe you read The Great Gatsby (I couldn’t come up with a pun for that). If you love books as much as I do, then you might have felt puzzled, or even ashamed, if you happened to think the hallowed canon didn’t live up to its laurels.
But isn’t it heresy to frown at the work of these dead, bearded, alcohol-tolerant men? (Yes, I know, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s face was as smooth as a doll. But still!)
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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