Monday, April 27, 2015

Solid middlebrow writers

... I was getting old enough to read my father's books. Many of these were Reader's Digest condensations of best sellers by Edwin O'Connor, A.J. Cronin and Morris West, solid middlebrow writers of a type that has largely ceased to exist.
Joe Queenan, One for the Books

Growing up at about the same as Joe Queenan, I know well the kind of authors he is talking about. Others in this category might be Frances Parkinson Keyes, James Michener, Herman Wouk, Pearl Buck, Taylor Caldwell and a few others. During the Fifties, Sixties and well into the Seventies, if your home had more than a few books in it, it probably had at least one by one of these authors, and maybe a lot more. These were authors who may not have aspired to art, but they did know how to tell a good story. They wrote mostly contemporary tales that did not fit into any genre, and their books sold well. People owned them, whether or not they read them.

So is Queenan correct in saying that this category of writers has largely disappeared? I think he is. Alexander McCall Smith and Jan Karon are the two contemporary writers who come to mind who might fit the category. Smith's books can usually be found in the mystery sections of bookstores, but I think they are misplaced. Readers looking for an exciting mystery don't really want any of Smith's books. They appeal more to general readers just seeking a good story.

The same is true for Karon's books. At a used book sale in Clearwater last week I noticed scads of Jan Karon books. That tells me two things. Scads of people own these books, and now they are getting rid of them. A decade ago women I knew seemed to be in competition with each other to see who could be the first to read the latest Karon novel. She is still writing books, as far as I know, but the fad seems to be over.

There are plenty of other non-genre, middlebrow writers around, mostly women. They are talented and, up to a point, popular. But I don't know that any of them quite fit the category Queenan has in mind.

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