All posts for the month March, 2016

On the New Yorker and on Victorian novels

Published March 5, 2016 by The Merida Review


Before we moved to Mexico, I checked out the Merida English Library to see what it had available. I am a person who loves books, who owns lots of books, and I didn’t feel I could ship them all down when we moved (I’m not sure why). I was trying to sort through and only take the essentials. Classics like War and Peace or The Red Badge of Courage you can find anywhere. You don’t ever have to worry about not being able to find a copy to read. Books like Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley are a whole different matter, however, and I am passionate about Victorian novels. I don’t read them all the time. Sometimes years can go by without me picking one up, but when I get in the mood then I ravenously plough through a bunch of them, and having them sitting on my shelf, winking at me when I go by, makes me feel secure. So, obviously, I had to take them.

I am a champion (in my own little universe) of a bunch of little known, underappreciated authors. In my past life as a used and rare bookseller, I had easy access and was always trying out books to see what was in them. I can’t tell you how many times I sat reading at an auction and then was obliged to buy that particular box of books to be able to finish the one I’d been reading. (Usually I could find something worthwhile enough in the box to at least pay for buying it.) My reading seems to date back to Jane Austen. I’ve tried to read novels that came before Jane, but I’ve never loved any, so my reading era spans back to her, and sputters abruptly out. I have lots of Dover editions of books.

Leaving books behind when I moved was gut wrenching. And the part of Mexico we were in (Yucatan Peninsula) doesn’t have many books. In Spanish OR in English. When we came home to visit, I would hit up flea markets and goodwill stores to find new reading fodder. When my luggage was getting searched in Cancun once, the customs agent asked if I was a teacher. I mean, who needs clothes when you can pack books?

I don’t think that owning lots of books makes you a pack rat, or a hoarder, since they fit so neatly on shelves, and you can have walls and walls of shelves. Books stand politely at attention until called upon. They are warmer and friendlier than any shade of paint or style of wallpaper. They are my preferred decorating style.

When I moved back to Ohio, my books went through another culling, not so heartbreaking this time as I knew I was heading back to the land of plenty, so far as used books are concerned, and lots of my more modern books had broken out with the humidity measles (brown spots on pages). No way, however, would I let go of my two beloved H C Bunner books, my Myrtle Reeds and Mrs Southworths, my Wilkie Collinses and George Gissings and Sheridan LeFanu and..and..and

I read things that aren’t Victorian, too. I have a healthy collection of poetry, a pile of mysteries and scifi/fantasy. I even keep up with a few modern authors. Sarah Waters, for one.

I have heaps of sewing books and fashion history. And doll books. And children’s books. And

After the kindle and its ilk were invented, life got way easier for expats who enjoy reading, myself included. Though I find myself reading an ebook and then tracking a physical copy so it can live on the shelves with all the others. After so many years of being in the business, I feel I can read people’s characters from their book collections, and I want people to get the right idea from my shelves. (Is that it, Cher? Really?) (Ok, I worry about something going wrong and losing my virtual book collection. Hard drives crashing, Amazon going under…Hey, anything can happen.) (And I like looking at them on the shelves. Sigh.)

How I started reading all the weird ass shit I do, I really don’t know. When I try to read the stuff other people read, best sellers (with a few exceptions here and there) I just can’t get into it.

So I write books, and who are they going to appeal to? All those other people who are mired in Victorian novels, steeped in writers like Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, passionate about children’s books from the ‘30s? Let me see. Um. How many people can that be? Ten?

They ask you to put yourself in a category, to choose other authors whose books are similar to yours, so that readers can be steered to you through those channels. (It’s the same way with music. I am currently trying to promote an album that’s on the verge of coming out.) You are supposed to endeavor to appeal to a huge category of people, write the next Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey. You are not supposed to aspire to a small, select audience. That’s not the way publishing works.

And yet my books don’t read like Victorian novels. Perhaps you can see some influence in them, I don’t know. People who enjoy Wilkie Collins wouldn’t particularly enjoy my books. Because I don’t know any authors or musicians whose work resembles my work, I just put a list of authors/bands I like. Trying to think of popular ones. I mean, “If you like Richard Bissell, then you’ll want to read….” just doesn’t cut it. My music resembles Nirvana, doesn’t it?

Yeah. Marketing.

So, Amazon was having this big magazine sale over New Year’s and since I am recently returned to the US and joyfully settling back into the culture, I picked out several and subscribed. If nothing else, it puts mail into my mailbox! I subscribed to the New Yorker ($5 for 3 months of it) because it’s been drilled into my head all my life, that if you want to reach the summits of authorship, the New Yorker is where you want to be. I have occasionally picked up an issue here and there but didn’t really enjoy it, to tell the truth. But for $5 I decided that if nothing else, I would read the fiction and poetry every week and know what kind of writer is a New Yorker kind of writer.


Aim at the heights.

My 3 month subscription is nearing the end, and it’s been an interesting experience. There are issues that I look at each page, read all the comics, but can’t get into a single article. There have been a few times I have been sucked in deep to articles. Once I even passed the issue on to a friend and said, “You have to read this!” There have been three times when something I read in the New Yorker made me sigh that sigh of total happiness/fulfillment.

There are times I have to read the poetry outloud to my dog to get all the way through it. No wonder poetry has such a bad rep. I have given up on having to get all the way through the fiction. I modified it to only having to read the first page of it. I have decided that I don’t aspire to be the kind of writer who gets into the New Yorker. At least not the fiction writers or poets. I don’t like their style, and here I feel mired in my Victorian roots, which I think would be about the opposite of a New Yorker writer.

If I were a nonfiction writer, I wouldn’t mind being in the New Yorker.

So I did learn something. I also decided that if Amazon wanted to give me another 3 months for $5, I would take it, but if they want to charge more than that, I’m out.

Do I stop submitting to them altogether? Unless they change direction/editors, I don’t have a chance in hell of getting in. And now, because of my $5 subscription, I know that.