Sunday, July 8, 2012

Molto Terribilo

Last week I posted a whine, masquerading as an analysis of the state of book reviewing in the 21st century.

It was couched in neutral, semi-scholarly language, but the take-away was essentially, "Poor, sensitive writers, laboring for a year or more in the coal mine of the imagination and then emerging blinking in the sunlight just in time to see their precious manuscript shredded by some clueless and unqualified critic who regards someone else's creative output as a straight line for a stolen wisecrack."

To my shame, I wrote that self-pitying screed during a period when I was getting some of the best reviews of my life.  But it just goes to show you what a craven, resentful lot we novelists (or, perhaps, this novelist) are (is).

You want to know who really has something to complain about?

Composers, that's who.

The evening of the day I posted that piece, my wife and I had dinner with two friends, one of whom is a member of the extremely select group of American classical composers who actually earn a living by writing serious contemporary music. I was in full martyr mode, really wringing the topic out, but it was impossible not to notice that I wasn't generating much sympathy.  My friend was doing everything short of looking at his watch.

When I ran out of steam, my friend (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will be apparent immediately) said, "Okay, imagine this.  Imagine you've written a new piece, maybe the best thing you've done in years.  It gets a performance in a prestigious venue, and you're told that most of the critics who really matter will be in the audience.  You spend every available moment before the premiere working with the musicians.

"And when the night comes, you get all dressed up and go, and the musicians butcher it,"

Dorothy Parker had a wonderful line, "What fresh new hell is this?"  I have to say that it's difficult to imagine anything much worse than hearing wrong note after wrong note in your composition as you sit there in real time with the audience and the critics, completely unable to do anything . . . at . . . all . . . about it.

I once licked an envelope and got a deep paper cut on the tip of my tongue, and that's the closest I can come to suggesting the way this experience must feel.  And my friend is, as I assume all composers are, a sensitive soul.  And aurally, he's super-sensitive.  Each one of those clams must have sounded to him like a rear-end collision.

This would be the equivalent, I suppose, of having my new novel read aloud on national television by the cast of "The Jersey Shore" and knowing that all the critics are sharpening their wits not on what I wrote but on how it's being butchered.  Of checking Amazon obsessively during the broadcast and watching the numbers actually go backward as copies are returned.  And to know that I'm powerless to affect the way Snooki will read the next line.

So . . . the sound you won't hear next week will be me complaining.  About anything.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. Do you think Snooki reads? Where would she find the time?

    I have never watched the show but Snooki is impossible to escape. I had students who were Snooki's soul mates and reading was not fundamental.


  2. You? Not complaining? Hold the phone... alert the press! New York Times 2-inch front-page headline to read: HALLINAN ELOPES WITH SNOOKI! Sub-headline to read: His Only Complaint: She Didn't Even Know He Was A Writer. "Whassa wrider DO, anyway?" she asks.

    Well... it COULD happen (I'm talking about the "not complaining," the "eloping with Snooki" definitely is running at better odds in Vegas right now. Of course, the odds on both of them are beating the odds of you personally discovering the true meaning of the Higgs Boson, so lets keep things in perspective.

    Now, if you REALLY want to complain, imagine years of Romney, followed by eight years of Jeb Bush. That should send you running for the porcelain depository and make you feel positively uplifted and euphoric about the current state of your writing career.

    I think we all need to pass the hat, see if we can't collect enough to send Tim on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Himalayas to study his navel and learn the true meaning of happiness and belly fuzz.

    But seriously, Tim, winning or whinging, you'll always have at least one fan. There are few writers who can put on a good rant the way you can. :-)

  3. There are few writers who would bare themselves so winningly as you do. Week after week, you allow us to travel along the road with you, and the book I read so intently becomes more alive because I know a real human being, a mensch, wrote it. Be lighter on yourself.

  4. Tim, I'm sure Lil doesn't mean "be lighter on yourself" in the sense some followers of Buddhist Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Durc have employed the phrase.

  5. Tim, you may have thought of last week's piece as a moan. To me it was a thought provoking insight into another aspect of the "new" book world. How could it be a moan when, as you pointed out, you had nothing to moan about.
    Now 16 years of Romney/Bush has got potential!

  6. Beth, OF COURSE, Snooki reads. She's a real, authentic novelist. I'm sure she wrote (almost) ever word of her book.

    Everett, I actually think Snooki IS the Higgs Bosom. I mean, when you think about it, it's obvious that--excuse me? What? BOSON? Kind of word is BOSON? Jeez, gimme a break. But thanks for the kind words about my ranting ability.

    Lil, I bare myself solely because I accepted the invitation to put one of these things up every Sunday, and every Saturday night around 9 PM my blood runs cold and I realize I'm on deadline. If I had more time, I could construct an artful shield of words and cower behind it, but as it is, I have to slap up whatever occurs to me in about 40 minutes, so it tends to be a tad raw.

    Jeff, however hard I am on myself at times, I think I'm safe from self-immolation. If I were going to go that way, I'd go out onto a flat rock just barely above sea level at low tide with four bottles of Chateaux Margaux and 100 sleeping pills, knock back the wine and the sleepers and doze off until the tide comes in.

    Michael, thank you. There was (I thought) an undertone of self-pity. As for Romney/Bush, they ALL look pretty awful to me. Not that thrilled about the current Admin, either.

  7. That's even more fuel to my new 'stop moaning' ethos Tim.

    Though if Snooki wants to read the audio book of my next book my agents would be interested.

  8. I'm already in line, Dan. Or I'll read it in a falsetto if she'll let me use her name.