By September 7, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

Do We Neglect Authors Once They’re Dead and Gone?

I was musing the other day — as I am often prone to do — about authors whose books we book group people are presently reading and discussing, and I began to wonder if we would still be reading these authors and discussing their works, say, 10 years from now.  Of course, that could depend on if they are still writing and getting published 10 years from now — assuming we are talking about those books they have yet to write.  But what about the books they have already written, including the ones we are discussing right now.  Will those titles still be used by book groups after another 10 years have passed?

I raise this question because it seems to me that with the exception of so-called “classic” authors, like Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Willa Cather, the interest in formerly esteemed writers seems to wane, once they either die or stop writing new books.  I’m wondering if any book groups out there are currently discussing two of my favorite authors, now deceased, William Styron and Bernard Malamud.  How about James Jones, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers?  Does it make a difference to those who select books for discussion whether or not the authors are still alive and still writing?  Or is it just my imagination working overtime?

Will book groups be reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River 10 years from now?  Will they go back to Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating PartyMark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Julia Glass’s Three JunesWhat determines if a book — or an author — has staying power for book groups over many years?  Looking back over the list of books my group read 10 years ago and the books we are reading today, I find that we’re still reading John Irving, Anne Tyler, and Joyce Carol Oates.  They’re still alive and still writing.  But I don’t go back and seek out older novels by Wallace Stegner, Irwin Shaw, Walker Percy, and William Maxwell, ones that we didn’t explore earlier, as choices we could talk about today.  Why is that?  Are we always totally captivated by the new, by what others are talking about, at the expense of all the other possibilities out there?  What’s been your experience with choosing authors for your group?  Perhaps I’m in the minority here. All the same, it’s something to think about.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

1 Comment on "Do We Neglect Authors Once They’re Dead and Gone?"

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  1.' Jim Leads says:

    Good questions. I find that unless I am reminded about these older authors I tend to forget about them. I watched a documentary on Stegner tonight and forgot how much I loved his fictional and historical works. I look forward to reading his works again in the coming months.

    I think it takes the lituary community to help bring good works back to newer generations of readers who may not fully appreciate the writing of some of the authors you mentioned.

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