Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful."

Once Mammon has smiled upon you, it's hard even for your enemies to deny you your measure of respect:
Within the past year, three of the most famous authors to emerge after World War II have died: Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut and William Styron. Their deaths all resulted in front-page stories, lengthy appreciations and ongoing discussions about their place in American letters.

No writer was more competitive, or ambitious, than Mailer, author of such epics as "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song," and critics would likely hand him the prize for his generation. But if sales are the measure of the public's mind, then honors clearly belong to Vonnegut.[…]

Other books by Vonnegut are also strongly outselling his contemporaries. "Cat's Cradle" has sold nearly 130,000 copies since 2006, according to Nielsen BookScan, and "Breakfast of Champions" totals 74,000. Meanwhile, Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," winner of the Pulitzer in 1968, has sold less than 2,000 since 2006, while Mailer's "The Armies of the Night," a Pulitzer winner in 1969, sold just 3,000.

Oddly, in comparing Vonnegut's oeuvre to that of the most self-consciously manly of American writers since Hemingway, the AP goes out of its way to stress that size matters--although not in the way it's usually said to do:
Size is an advantage for Vonnegut. Many of his books were less than 200 pages and easily read at a single sitting. You could likely speed through half a dozen of Vonnegut's novels in the time it takes to finish the 1,000-plus page "Executioner's Song."

Vonnegut, a writer of not-overlong books (as Mailer, that great lover of litotes, would say), died last spring at age 84, the same age as Kilgore Trout.

(Image via Rolling Stone. Title quotation via McSweeney's.)

1 comment:

Chuck Butcher said...

Despite a lot of current trending, brevity is a virtue as is compact efficient language. Frankly, the need to go 1000 pages to tell a single story is more a mark of incompetence in character developement and description. As a reader I expect to be involved in the process, not spoon-fed.

As an example, Michner's "Tales From the South Pacific" ranks high on my all time greats, the rest of his stuff is just annoying to me.