Literary Crushes – Who is Yours?

Enough time has gone by, that I’m treating myself to another Scott Spencer novel, although this time I am not quite so enamored. The title is “Willing”, and it is about a man who goes on a sex tour to a few relatively obscure foreign countries, and is paid a rather handsome sum to write a book about it. I’m guessing that such an assignment might not be unappealing to a number of male writers.

I think, to read Mr. Spencer, one must not be sexually squeamish, as there is something in every one to send a few shock waves. But the way he talks about such things, so naturally, I can’t help but get a picture of the kind of person Mr. Spencer might be. I’m guessing, the quiet, introspective type, much like Jonathon Franzen, that the outward persona does not match the man inside.

My author friend Benison O’Reilly coined a term (at least I think she is responsible for it, so I am giving her due honors here), “literary crush” and mine is on Mr. Spencer. Hers is on Mr. Franzen. But that is not to say I haven’t had literary crushes on women too, and two of them are Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, who write in a way in which I could only hope to come close.

I would have to use the term “envious” when it comes to these three authors. It’s what I would want for myself, to write in such a way. Recently, I read an interesting post which examined the difference between “jealousy” and “envy”. Jealousy is when you want what another person has and you attack it in a negative way, the I-am-just-as-good-as-that-writer so poor me, why am I consistently ignored and kicked around? Envy is when you see what good things others have done, and want the same for yourself, but in a positive way, it allows you to strive for more, for better writing, for lovelier sentences, for better hooks and dialogue and characters, by seeing the good in others.

Back to Willing, Mr. Spencer breaks a lot of rules with this one. There is not one quotation mark in the whole novel. The dialogue is intermixed with the narrative. We are told in the How To books to put each person’s dialogue in a separate paragraph. Nope, he doesn’t do that either. So we have dialogue, which we aren’t always sure really is dialogue, and two or more people speaking in the same paragraph, so we aren’t always sure who is doing the talking. But somehow it works. There are pages with hardly any whitespace, another faux pas. Lack of whitespace makes readers weary, shorter paragraphs and single lines mix it up visually and the reader is less intimidated by droning on and on, so they say.

I am only two thirds through the book, and I have only found a couple of sexual reference that might be construed as troubling, even though one would think there would be more, given the subject. But I have found (so far) six editing errors, five which were duplicate words or wrongly phrased such that I knew it was   unintentional, and one punctuation error. I always feel a little compensated when I find errors in the works of “real authors” (if I dare use that term), as if – see, we are all fallible!

So, even if this is not my favorite of his novels, the writing is still all there, superb, funny, gripping descriptions of characters (of which there are a great number). Take this description of himself, on the first page, written in first person POV:

Physically, I was of the type no longer commonly minted, a large serious face, a little heavier than necessary, broad shoulders, sturdy legs, hair and eyes the color of a lunch bag.

Gives you a pretty good idea, right? I especially loved the reference to a lunch bag.

Or this description of someone encountered at one of the stops:

One was a heavyset guy with a shaved head who looked like the world’s most enormous baby, with a nose like a knuckle and dark little eyes the size of watermelon seeds.

The book is crammed with stuff like this. On every page, there are great thoughts and descriptions. This author understands people, he gets it so right. Humorous, witty, and insightful.

And yes, I am envious.

10 thoughts on “Literary Crushes – Who is Yours?

  1. “I’m guessing that such an assignment might not be unappealing to a number of male writers.”

    I thought double negatives were a no no.

    The book would be appealing to me – Gary

    • Gary, yes a double negative, and on purpose. If Spencer can break the rules, why not me? I thought about not using it, but decided I liked it.

      I believe this author is one that appeals to both men and women.

  2. I don’t know if literary crush is the right term, because I do not aspire to be a writer myself, so maybe it’s different. But as much as I admire many contemporary authors and am grateful for their presence in my life, there has never been an author I have admired as much as Shakespeare. He not only looked into the soul and saw what was there but expressed his findings in beautiful, haunting verse. To me, no other authors even come close to his greatness. Does that mean I sit around and read Shakespearian plays all day? Not at all. I read contemporary novels. But none of them stay with me. My favorite plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet are always with me.

    • I admit to having little to no knowledge of Shakespeare. I also admit to having trouble with some of the classics. Recently, I tried Great Expectations and am a little bogged down. However, I will keep trying and will be sure to take your recommendaion under advisement. Thanks for this great comment.

  3. Terrific descriptions! As you also love Franzen I will definitely check Scott Spencer out.

    I am going to see my literary crush in Sydney on September 13. He’s playing at the Sydney Opera House. I do love the fact a novelist can pull such big crowds. Can’t wait to hear his words of wisdom.

    • Benison, I believe he is worth a try. I think anyone who likes Franzen (and there are those who don’t, believe it or not) will also like Spencer. Although, I do think Franzen might be funnier. And more over the top maybe. I find his books unforgettable, I’m still thinking about Walter Bergland and his quest to save the little known bird species from the dangers of windmills.

  4. OK, geek that I am, you might rightly expect my crushes to be generally in the Sci-Fi genre (yes, I know you are not a fan, but give me 2 mins). When I become a famous writer, I imagine myself being spoken of with mocking reverence in the same breath as Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffery, William Gibson, and (sigh) Isaac Asimov. I will read a Dan Brown novel, but I wake up feeling dirty and used and not respected. In the philosophic / cognitive science lands, I must acknowledge Douglas Hofstadter as a life-changer. On the male mythopoeic side, Joseph Cambell remains my main squeeze, with kudos to Sam Keen, and to the team of Robert Moore + Douglas Gillette. And for poetry, manly Robert Bly outstrips Robert Frost (although nary a month goes by that I don’t quote “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”; how droll of me). My heart has been recently suggesting that I go a’roving for new crushes, however. I am considering pursuing Keats, Tennyson, Yeats, and Byron, based on their reputations; and Dylan Thomas, because I, too, shall not go gently into that good night. I gave D.H. Lawrence a try several years ago, but we are just friends now; I cannot abide his attitudes towards women. I have a long-standing promise to read James Joyce, but I am intellectually daunted by the prospect (like giving single-malt scotch to a beer drinker, and expecting him to truly appreciate it, I am told). I think I secretly yearn for a liberal arts education, despite my hard science background; grass seems greener over there, and they dress nicer and smell better than us geeks.

  5. This is an impressive list of classic authors. You’re right, I haven’t heard or your sci-fi people. You are torn between geekdom and acedemia. That’s not bad! You could be Joe Six-Pack and not be in either place.

    I like the Russian authors, but then are you reading what they wrote or are you depending on the translator?

    I agree about D.H. I just couldn’t do it.

    • I was in an arranged marriage to Dostoevsky in high school, and forced to read a classic translation of Crime and Punishment. Brutal. Soured me on Existentialism for years. Never looked back. Which is unfortunate, because I am told his other works have some interesting themes; I might be enticed to read Brothers Karamazov. Reading what they actually wrote? I have trouble with bi-lingual cereal boxes (“It’s Grrreat! / Esta Muy Bien!”); please don’t frighten me.

      • One has to wonder whether one is reading the author or depending upon the translation of the work. I think that is a big issue, as I’ve seen good and bad translations of some Russian novels. Right now, I have Crime and Punishment on my To Read list.

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