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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

What Makes a “Readers' Writer”?

By Stroppy

Have you ever read an article applauding a newly acclaimed writer or even an old master and failed miserably in an attempt to read more than a few pages? I certainly have.

I have picked up a number novels written by so-called noted authors, over a long period of time, only to discard them a short way in. “Why?” I asked myself, as the writer was purported to be one of the best.

One such failed author for me was Australia’s own, Patrick White. Recently I was delighted to read a short article in a Saturday newspaper by Blanche Clarke about this apparently well-known problem with “many readers confronted with White’s fiction that is so impenetrable for the average reader.”

This unpretentious, well-written column reignited my desire to have another go at an old master.

vThe book hailed as the saviour of readers smarting at their own lack of understanding the writer’s world is, The Hanging Garden, a previously unpublished novel.

White's literary agent, according to Blanche Clarke, Ms Barbara Mobbs, was instructed by White to destroy the manuscript. “Not in a blue fit,” said Ms Mobbs.

“Ms Mobbs acting on behalf of the charities named in his will sold White's manuscripts, 32 boxes in total, to the National Library of Australia in 2006. She pursued her idea that ‘The Hanging Garden’ was good enough to publish in 2010. A team of academics transcribed the hand written manuscript.”

The Hanging Garden, set in wartime Sydney, is a tale of two children who, having each lost a parent, forge a strong relationship, and are forced into a difficult living circumstance. “The main characters, Eirene and Gilbert, live vividly in your mind’s eye, their vulnerability, curiosity, angst and hints of arrogance and sexual wakening give them depth and dignity,” says Blanche Clarke. She also says White was at one time in his life, “labelled a misogynist because of his depiction of women in his writing,” however this is not the case with Eirene.

Clarke continues, “the narration slides effortlessly, between first second and third person view.” This synopsis of the story, and the manner in which the novel was saved from destruction and eventually printed has whet my appetite.

I have only one question left to ponder. How will I feel if I fail again to read Patrick White, Nobel Prize winner for literature, 1973? Definitely an Australian literary genius, but is he a “readers' writer?”

Will I skulk away and whimper quietly into my pillow? Or will I be changed as a reader if I find, this time, I am won over by Mr. White? Will I then scorn Fuentes, Follett, Cussler, Cornwall and Mankell and other regulars in my hands. No. I don’t believe I will change my reading choices.

However, a chance reading of a Chekhov short story, The Kiss, has now placed Anton Chekhov as another challenge on my new reading list. But first, Mr. White awaits. My last hurrah.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Had no idea that others felt this way. I too have a problem reading some writing by acclaimed authors. I feel so duuumb! And yes, I'll try again, hoping in the process that I will learn something! Dee

There are so many wonderful,interesting and well written books to be read I will not waste my time plowing through a book I am not enjoying or understanding.

I will give a book a few chapters to catch my interest and if it does not have me avidly turning pages I will put it down and select another book to read.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable about dumping books that were, in my opinion, awful.
But I do give a writer a few chapters to woo me. Sometimes it
takes a while for me to become
accustomed to a writer's style but the story, etc. takes hold and I wind up enjoying it.

I feel some poets are also overrated.

I too felt bad about not finishing a book - especially one highly acclaimed - but life is too short to plod through something you do not like.

So cheers to Elder, limiting to 750 words or less, not time to waste, got to get right to the point!!
Thanks Stroppy

I enjoyed your essay Stroppy. I am afraid to name the author that I have tried and tried to 'like.' My problem, with this famous writer given so much press for the excellence of his writing, is that I find him to be very self-centered.
I join Joanne's "cheers to Elder 750 word limitation." I always wonder, after I cut from 1200 to the limit for publishing, why I thought I needed that many words in the first place.
Michigan Grandma

There are different kinds of readers. Some read for the story, some for the characters, some for the tone and style, some for the ideas, some for the wrestling with one idea. So of course some famous books mean nothing to many readers.

Even as a wee reader, I often returned books to the Library on 68th St & l0th avenue and sometimes told the Librarian why I didn't like something or mostly, why I did...It gave me long term confidence that my opinions were valuable in the reading department..I agree with all of the above about giving it at least few chapters, and I too wonder how terrific the 750 word limitations on Elder Storytelling has been for us all...sure makes you think thru what you are saying/writing and be sure you hit the mark..Renee your remark was perfect placed for me..summed it all right up..

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