"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Friday, February 23, 2007

Greatest Living Writer

The Guardian has created some controversy around the issue of Britain's greatest living author. People are weighing in with their nominations. I'm happy to see that Doris Lessing is mentioned. She'd have my vote. One could argue that she is South Africa's greatest living author, although she has been living in England for nearly sixty years. My favorite of hers was The Four-Gated City, although I also recommend The Good Terrorist, The Sweetest Dream, her most famous book, The Golden Notebook, and many of the others. I first came across her writing in my teens somewhere. A story of hers, Not a Very Nice Story, was in Fine Lines, The Best of Ms. Magazine Fiction. Later, I borrowed The Golden Notebook from an unattended lending shelf at school and managed never to return it because I could not part with it. I have tried to rectify this crime by buying used copies of the book and giving them away whenever I have found one at a used book sale. I am a dutiful returner of borrowed books, with that one exception.

Incidentally, the popular vote in Britain is for JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. Here in the U.S., it would go for Stephen King. My favorite book of his might be The Long Walk. The distinction being made at The Guardian is entertainment vs. enlightenment. We crave entertainment, but we need enlightenment. In the same way that we crave sugar, but need vegetables. Which is ultimately more important? It's worth noting that The Long Walk is not a sugary treat. It's a prophetic Kafkaesque (will future readers say Kingesque?) look at where the lust for "reality" shows could lead us.

While we are on the subject of Stephen King, my favorite work of his is actually the novella Apt Pupil, from Different Seasons (which also contains Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption). Apt Pupil is a penetrating study of evil. A young boy discovers that his elderly neighbor is a former Nazi, but instead of turning him in, tries to toy with him. Unfortunately, toying with one's prey is a game at which the elderly Nazi excels. Also made into a terrifically chilling movie with Brad Renfro and Sir Ian McKellen.

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