On Becoming a Novelist contains the wisdom accumulated during John Gardner's distinguished twenty-year career as a fiction writer and creative writing teacher. With elegance, humor, and sophistication, Gardner describes the life of a working novelist; warns what needs to be guarded against, both from within the writer and from without; and predicts what the writer can reasonably expect and what, in general, he or she cannot. "For a certain kind of person," Gardner writes, "nothing is more joyful or satisfying than the life of a novelist." But no other vocation, he is quick to add, is so fraught with professional and spiritual difficulties. Whether discussing the supposed value of writer's workshops, explaining the role of the novelist's agent and editor, or railing against the seductive fruits of literary elitism, On Becoming a Novelist is an indispensable, life-affirming audiobook for anyone authentically called to the profession.
©1983 The Estate of John Gardner (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
The thing that makes this book so much fun to listen to is also it's greatest flaw: John Gardner was a something of crank. I found myself cycling between thoughts of "Brilliant!" and "Oh, John..." He comes up with such gems as: "It's a law of the universe that eighty-seven percent of all people in all professions are incompetent." "Fools, maniacs, and jabberers are everywhere." and "One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors." Anthony Haden Salerno is pitch perfect in his reading; he gets Gardner's snarky, self-assured tone exactly right. I can't imagine how anyone else could have done it better.
The book itself isn't a writing manual so much as Gardner's thoughts on what makes a writer. What personalities are suited for it, what the aspiring writer will need, how the aspiring writer can get what he or she needs, etc.. Despite his tone and his probably outdated advice on writing classes and publishing, I feel he makes a lot of good points. I don't think that most people would object to the idea that deep art rarely comes from superficial people, or that going into the craft with certain motivations can lead to disappointment. Some of his ideas are strange, and his standards are quite high, but I thought the book overall had an encouraging message. If the reader is seriously inclined to writing, Gardner suggests they give it a shot. As he says: "More people fail at becoming successful businessmen, than fail at becoming artists."
This book (like its author) is very much the product of one particular epoch in literary fiction. There may be some helpful information for the aspiring author in it, if she is equipped to stomach the author's narrow, sexist, and dated opinions on the nature of good fiction. None of its useful bits are so original, however, that a reader couldn't gather them from Stephen King or Sol Stein's much more palatable books on this subject. Die-hard Gardner fans will appreciate this book, but for anyone looking for advice on how to weather the literary climate of this century, I'd recommend picking something else.
The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World.
Anthony Haden Salerno made this a delightful hate-listen, as the subtle edge in his voice while he read the author's reductive and pretentious diatribes on True Writers Who Suffer and Why Most Fiction is Useless Tripe Written By Cowards made me wonder if the narrator shared my opinion that Gardner was totally that pompous college professor who tries to get into the pants of his clever female students by negging on their short stories.
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