2018 Prize Winners warning me not to quit my day job

It still resonates with me that when the Goodreads Choice Awards came up last year, I hadn’t read that came out that year to vote on.  It was an awesome reason why I hadn’t read anything that was in the running, but I missed reading the new stuff.  I usually try to hit the prizewinners of the year as well as some of the releases that look good.  I am going to try to read some 2019 releases, but before I did that, I caught up on two major prize winners for 2018.

I have been catching up too on other books that have been on the TBR too long, too, which will be discussed as the year goes on.

(Also, happy fourth Blog-A-Versary to me!  It’s kept me writing and thinking about my reading, which is awesome.)

Interesting about both of the prize winners I talk about have to do with the life of the writer, among other things. And the writerly talk is depressing, which makes me feel that I am brave as I am submitting and writing for immediate submission more than ever before in my adult life.  But I’m not sure how real my bravery is because I have a day job that, although it burns out my brain to the point where it can be hard to write on the side, I feel good about, fulfilled, and proud of, and how my writing career does or does not pan out will not detract from a sense of satisfaction as it already is.  So it frees me up a little emotionally, without all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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The Friend, Sigrid Nunez

National Book Award Winner 2018

This haunting story is a warning:  don’t spend your life on writing if you can possibly make a life out of anything else.  Even the writer successes in this one come with crippling disappointment and anti-climactic teaching careers. There’s a lot of suicide.  The person that the main character is addressing through the novel is a victim of suicide.  A brilliant person who couldn’t be alone and was relegated to dealing with students, and then after his death gives the narrator a dog of his that is completely impractical for her to take care of, on top of heartbreaking.  Because I love having pets but they always break your heart when they die.  And this is a big dog that barely fits in her apartment and won’t live long  besides.  I spent part of the book praying this wouldn’t be a redo of The Art of Racing in the Rain where I just sobbed like an idiot for an hour at the end.

Despite the depressing story, it was still beautifully written and astute.  It wouldn’t be as depressing if it wasn’t as astute.  The artistry, to me, was that the narrator could wander into different parts of the story and it flowed beautifully from one aspect to the other:  the wives of the friend who gave her the dog, why they weren’t lovers and why his wives were jealous of this, how she gets the dog, how writing/teaching writing sucks, then more about how she gets to keep the dog, and then some on her therapy sessions to manage her grief and reflect on her not getting married or having a family herself, and what this means about her particular grief.  And then more about the relationship with the dog, and then more about her relationship to the dead person that she addresses throughout in second person.  Then some ex wife backstory. It was beautifully done.  Sometimes I was like, how did I get over here to this aspect of the story?  I could use more practice making things flow like that.

Also, this was another one that I mistakenly thought fit into a BookRiot category.  I thought the dog might narrate this business.  The weird cover with the dog suggests that.  The dog isn’t what makes the cover weird, it’s the blocks of color .  I’m like really, because a lot of people die in this at their own hand after years of emptiness. The dog is cool but the primary school colors gives the wrong vibe here.  Thank goodness this beautiful depression was short.

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Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2018

This one looked completely unappealing to me for like, ever.   I wasn’t sure I’d care about the protagonist and his issues.  It’s a little first world problem-y in an Eat Pray Love kind of way.  Like, yeah, a major relationship ending is hard, but it’s a little easier when you can shake it off traveling the world, and, oh yeah, maybe live some writer dreams.

Except that these are only dubious writer dreams. He wrote maybe one notable book of a few of them, and some people have read them, but not to the point he would be recognized on a plane or anything. He’s up for an award, but his publisher rejects his most recent attempt at a novel and he’s trying to fix it, despite some follies that get in the way, and the whole reason he’s even on this trip with it’s weird bouts of illness, faulty German, bizarre clothes and random lovers is to avoid an ex boyfriend’s wedding.   His honors are dubious and the author is very funny, and it had an appreciable twist at the end.  I didn’t know how it would end, and nearer the end I suspected I was getting a surprise, but I liked how it ended.  Compulsively readable, almost as much so as Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  Heavy warnings that if you can do anything other than write with your life, you probably should.

So, good for me I have done that. Getting traction with submitting writing has proven to be slow.  I become intimidated when researching a publication by what they have accepted, so sometimes it’s easier for me to just look at a call for submissions, see if I can think up anything fast enough, and go.  All these, MFA, previously published in, I don’t know, Harpers, Tin House, The New Yorker, places I don’t know if I would ever have the stones to send anything to.  My first rejection of the year was very kindly done, even if it was a form email.  It told me to keep up the hope. These stories tell me to focus my energies elsewhere.

I’m trying to do a better job looking at new releases this year.

I hope Spring is starting to take decent hold, wherever you are.  D vitamins have helped, but every winter gets long.

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