Friday, November 14, 2008

An Evening with E. L. Doctorow

Last night I attended a lecture by E. L. Doctorow at the University of South Florida. Since I had not read his work in quite some time, I picked up WORLD’S FAIR and enjoyed it very much just prior to the evening. So it was with some delight that I looked forward to this lecture.

It’s always interesting to hear a writer speak. They are not usually the sort of person who easily stands before an audience. If they were, they’d be actors instead of writers. So you never know what you’re going to get. Some of them are quite outgoing and interesting. Some should just stay in their rooms and write.

Mr. Doctorow fell somewhere in between those two extremes. He had a very well thought out topic with fabulous examples to illustrate his points, but he read it to us. I so much prefer a presentation by a person who just speaks. But he’s the National Book Award winner, not I. So I’ll excuse him whatever he needs to remain in his comfort zone.

His lecture was about the historical novel. He said that he believed all novels were historical novels in that they all happen in the past. That’s worth pondering. He also made the point that novels are more factual than non-fiction in that a historian is relating history with his or her perceptions influencing it. A novelist is telling the absolute truth of what is in his or her imagination. Another excellent point to consider.

Wrtiers are on their own, he told us. Specialists in nothing. Unlike doctors, lawyers, or any other professional discipline, writers don’t have to take an exam, don’t have to secure a license to practice their craft. We work “lacking any credential except that which we have given ourselves.”

But the license to continue is given to us by the public. A book is not completed until it’s read.

I absolutely love the act of reading, and am equally enamored with writing. It’s a monumental treat to be in the presence of someone who excels at both. However, I would have walked away from this lecture far more satisfied had Mr. Doctorow not felt it necessary to disparage the historical romance novel.

Less than two minutes into his lecture, he adamantly excluded historical romances from his conversation, referring to them as books in which the writers “flaunt their research and costume their characters correctly.” Those, he said, he is not considering.

Why, I wonder, did a man of his esteem find it necessary to belittle a genre that brings so much reading enjoyment to so many? How did it enhance his lecture? What credibility did he hope to gain by making that distinction?

I remain puzzled. But it doesn’t stop me from continuing to experience the delight of writing about people endeavoring to achieve the most precious treasure a person can hope to gain – the essence of love.

If E. L. Doctorow thinks all novels are historical, I would argue that they are all romances. Show me a novel in which love is not a factor.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed the show. Books are on sale in the lobby.

No comments: