Anne Tyler, Emily Neville, and the Change in the Publishing World

For Christmas this year I asked to have hardback replacements for some of the paperback books I love. I thought this would be a good present since it was something I wanted and it would allow my husband to search ebay and other places online. I received copies of Morgan’s Passing (1980) by Anne Tyler

Photo on 1-13-14 at 8.36 PM #2 (1)

and the 1964 Newberry Award winner, It’s Like This Cat by Emily Neville. Overall, I’m not a rereader, but with the passage of time and new copies in my hands, I decided to reread both.

I first read It’s Like This Cat in 5th or 6th grade. My recollection was that it was funny, touching, real, and I liked the love story. Rereading it fifty years after it was first published, I can see the points that I probably thought were humorous. The love story was very tame and hardly drove the story since it was mostly about a teenaged boy and his relationship to his father. He does change in the course of the book, but as literature for kids in past often did, it was more of a told than an shown change. Not exactly preachy, but probably not something that would be considered great literature these days. Since the language and situations are very sanitized, I’m wondering if kids in 2014 would enjoy this book? Although it is about a 14 or 15 year-old, it seems more like a story for a contemporary ten-year-old.

I must have read Morgan’s Passing sometime after it was first published as I discovered Anne Tyler while taking an Adolescent Literature class at Colorado State University. The main requirement of the class was to read so many pages of books for adolescents. I don’t remember what our page count was, but I know I read many books and someplace I have the index cards I made for the class with a summary of each book. This particular class helped me land a job working in the Children’s Department of our library, the place were the YA books were then shelved.

The book I read was A Slipping Down Life. Most of Anne Tyler’s books would not be classified as young adult, so the others I read were not for this class. I think I’ve read everything she’s written but one. The problem is, I don’t know for sure which one that is since a number of the earlier ones tend to blend together. My favorite of her oeuvre is A Patchwork Planet, one of her more recent. Reading Morgan’s Passing, a book I recalled as having a very quirky (even for Anne Tyler) character, I was struck by how much the world has changed. The character does things that I’m sure readers today think of as sexual assault and stalking, although most of Tyler’s writing is remarkably free of actual sex scenes.

The world of writing and publishing has changed as well. Anne Tyler had the privilege of being a writer who has done very little self-promotion. In this interview from April, 2012 in The Guardian, it states this is her first face-to-face interview in over 40 years! In doing some research on Emily Neville, it appears she did little self promotion, too, as she soon became a lawyer and died with little notice in 1997.

Although my writing has been likened to Anne Tyler’s—the characters, not the prose—I would wish my writing life could emulate hers as well. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who laments the need for self-promotion. A question might be, does this switch to the author having to self-promote change the face of “literature” as currently published? I’m sure many would respond that it is change in publishing world that is driving the necessity for writers to become promoters, but as agents look for a different type of writer to pitch to editors, does the style of book change? Or maybe the question is, who is driving the change to the more visible writer–someone tweeting away, blogging, doing interviews on the Today Show, online, at conferences, etc? Is it the reader or the industry? If the industry, does this do the reader a service, or are we now stuck with the equivalent of the movie industry with the constant blow them up special effects blockbuster?

To further color the analogy, are “mainstream”–as in non-strictly genre books, or those shelved in Fiction A–Z—the equivalent of independent movies with literary novels in the category of foreign films? And if so, do these have the attendant problems that are accompanying this burgeoning source of DVDs? (See “As Indies Explode, An Appeal for Sanity.”) Possibly the many DVDs are more akin to self-published books?

And writers, which type of author would you prefer to be?

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  1. #1 by c2london on January 14, 2014 - 4:08 am

    And yes, I know that picture is a mirror image. It’s the first one I ever took with my laptop camera.

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