Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers: A Novel

An author is trying to give you an immersive adventure.

The protagonist is a writer.

But don’t let that turn you off.

It’s kinda like a musician. They’ve got their whole life to write their first album, but less than a year for the second and at some point in the future they talk about being on the road and how hard that is and…

It’s hard to relate.

We live in a country based on income. That’s the only marker. Especially now that credibility has gone out the window. Used to be how good a person you were, but if you’re not wealthy today, you don’t count.

Then there is academia.

Unless you’re a household name writer, you’ve probably got a gig at a college, teaching writing. Yes, even if you’ve had a well-reviewed book in the “New York Times,” chances are you are not rich, that you need the supplemental income.

So there’s a whole world, a complete industry, of less than successful authors teaching others to be writers. Kinda like music business school, but with some creative talent involved. We don’t need more passionate people in the music industry, we need entrepreneurs, people who can think outside the box, who can push the envelope. And too many of these writing factories turn out books that only appeal to those who’ve gone through the sausage-making writing factories themselves.

You hear that writing is rewriting.

I couldn’t disagree more.

And to tell you the truth, much of what is considered literature I find unreadable. Because the writers are so busy impressing their friends, the writing industry, that each sentence is dense, it doesn’t sound like real people, and the story takes a back seat, if it’s even in the car to begin with. Think of a record made with ace studio musicians, that sounds perfect, but with lame songs, you’ve got it.

But in “Writers & Lovers” Lily King seems to bridge both worlds. It’s kind of amazing in fact. You can tell the book was rewritten, to conform to the ethos, but the story flows nonetheless.

This book called out to me. I loved living in its world. It was easy to read and I wanted to read it. Which is a far cry from much of which is hyped.

So, Casey is a struggling writer.

Now most writers don’t make it. And most musicians don’t either.

But there are two layers of wannabe musician. Those living off their parents’ largesse, and those struggling to get by. Forget those who’ve achieved success, that’s a different world with different problems. But while you’re woodshedding in music, writing, rehearsing, learning, you’re either close to broke or driving the car your parents bought you and servicing it on their credit card.

This is a world we’re rarely exposed to. Educated, talented people on the wrong side of income inequality. The underprivileged underclass gets all the ink. But those who’ve chosen the path less taken? They’re seen as losers.

Or, they’ve got a backup plan. They’ll try for three to five years and then they’ll go straight. Become a lawyer, marry someone rich, so they can have some of the perks of life, like health insurance and a house.

And then there are those who are lifers.

But not all of them make it.

Casey is living in a potting shed, her landlord is an overbearing friend of her brother, who lives across the country. She works as a server, i.e. a waitress. The restaurant is upscale, but comes with its own issues. She’s developing skills at the restaurant, but how many of them are transferable to the world she desires to inhabit?

So, she’s writing.

But she has a best friend and…

She’s got love interests.

One thing about working at a restaurant…you’re interacting with people. Too many writers do not. Sure, you get insight at the restaurant, but you also get camaraderie, social interaction, that satisfies your soul. But, you could be drifting to nowhere.

So, Casey’s got her work friends, a successful writer friend, she rides her bike to work, but…

She’s got her love life.

That’s what seals the deal here.

Her family background is complicated. Her mother just died and she used to be a golf prodigy and…every childhood is different, just like every family is different. Then again, the winning families too often are similar. The parents make beaucoup bucks and the kids went to private school and were the beneficiaries of all these enrichment programs, like digging wells in Africa and…

You learn the most from those who are different from you. But unlike in the sixties and seventies, there’s been pushback against lifting up the disadvantaged, the privileged don’t want their space being taken. Kinda like the rich…they don’t mind if you have more money, they just don’t want to sacrifice any of their own.

So, Casey attends a writers’ retreat.

This is another thing about the world of literature. It’s sponsored. There’s a whole game of residencies and grants and…prizes too. You read about all these awards academics and writers get…take them with a grain of salt. Oh, the recipients might be deserving, but the truth is they’ve kissed butt and worked their way up the awards ladder. They didn’t get that MacArthur genius grant out of the blue.

Yes, it’s a scam.

But life isn’t.

And how do you run your life? Do you go for your goals, putting everything on the line, or do you compromise? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t work at Apollo and be a rock star, you can’t go to med school and be a Broadway actor.

So, while some are notching their belts, there are others throwing the long ball, that may never be caught.

So, on one hand I have contempt for the world of writing. The authors go to the best graduate school they can get into, where they’re all taught to do it the same way. This was illustrated well in the final season of “Girls,” when Hannah/Lena Dunham goes to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Harvard of the world, and doesn’t fit in, and ultimately drops out.

These people spend years writing and rewriting their novels. Casey’s taken six. And most of them end up going nowhere, if they’re published at all.

I believe writers are born, not made. Same as musicians. You’ve either got the talent or you don’t. Someone can teach you to be a journeyman, but they can’t teach you to be new and different, can’t teach you inspiration, can’t teach you to be better than all the rest, all that depends upon you. Sure, you can have a little coaching, but the key is not to beat out the creativity in those who can grab the brass ring. Too often education makes you conform, when we’re truly looking for the nonconformists.

Skills are not enough. We learn this all the time with television singing programs. There’s a winner, with good pipes, but no hits, because they cannot write. Whereas someone with a more colored voice, who could never win the competition, composes something that touches our hearts.

Then you’ve got Lily King, who jumped through all the writing industry hoops, and delivered “Writers & Lovers.” Proving there’s an exception to every rule.

So, if you’re a fan of non-fiction, “Writers & Lovers” is not for you.

But if you’ve got more questions than answers, if you want to retreat to a place where it’s about feelings, emotions, choices… Reading “Writers & Lovers” is about opening a door to a whole world, that is strangely your own. Meanwhile, the door shut behind you. It’s only you in this new world. And the characters.

I’ve read so many mediocre books during lockdown. Many highly reviewed. I just don’t get what the industry sees in them. It’s like they check certain boxes but that’s all they do, they do not possess the je ne sais quoi that draws you to a book, that makes you hold it close to your heart, that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when you read it, that makes you feel human and alive.

Reading should not be a chore, but an experience. Sure, movies and TV can be incredible, but rarely. You just sit there passively in your chair and take it all in.

But a book?

As you read it your mind is set free, it starts to wander, to previous experiences in your life, to your hopes and dreams, to your choices.

Somehow, the publishing industry has lost touch with the public. It’s too insular, just like the writing industry itself. Whereas books should be a big tent. That’s the advantage of the written word, it can be more encompassing than any other medium, it can open your mind at the same time it resonates.

Then again, it’s the educational system that turns people off to literature. Making readers jump through hoops of books taught by boring teachers. And, as you move up the food chain, to college and graduate school, it’s all analysis of technique, deeper meanings, when first and foremost a book should be an adventure, a ride at Disneyland, it’s truly all about what the reader feels.

And what the reader feels is valid. It’s the same with listening. You can’t explain why you like the track, it just hits you in a certain way.

I won’t say “Writers & Lovers” is a chick book. But too often men deny their feelings. Yet, if you’re open to yours, you’re gonna love “Writers & Feelings,” male or female.

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