Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I had a very odd, sort of funny and rather disconcerting conversation with a reader this past weekend.

In a bookstore, I was introduced by someone to their friend, “This is the author of those books I loaned you last winter.”

Sidebar: That always makes me feel sort of uneasy. I would like to say, “I’d much prefer if you’d bought them for your friend,” but one can’t say that, can one? So you roll with the punches, considering that it was a good thing that people wanted to share your novels with someone else.

The “loanee” in this case floored me with her pronouncement on the worth she placed on my oeuvre. “Your books are okay, but I can’t take them seriously because your characters sometimes make those funny comments.”

Say what? Characters aren’t allowed to make the odd flip comment, wry observation or some sort of idle witticism lest the novel be taken as comedy?

Picking my jaw off the floor, I mumbled some sort of response that encouraged this perspicacious reader to expound on her theory — and expound she did. At length.

Any time an author writes anything remotely funny it risks turning the story into “something lightweight like that horrible stuff Carl What’s-his-name writes. Or Elmore Leonard. Oh puleeze!”

“So nothing to make you smile?” I queried.

“Not if you want to be taken seriously.”

“What if it’s accidental?”

“Then that’s poor editing if it wasn’t your intent.”

“So who is ‘serious’ in your mind?”

“That Scottish writer, Rankin.”

“But I distinctly remember a few comedy bon mots in his books!”

“No. You are mistaken. Seriousness is why his book undoubtedly sell better than yours do.”

With that, the good woman, back ramrod straight, marched for the door, as I searched madly for two books in order to make a point. A few minutes later, I found them — a day late and a dollar short.

Each had a gray cover, one dark, one light. I’d wanted to see how she’d handle the gradation...


Vicki Delany said...

What a charmer. I was at a very high end wedding last summer when someone at my table who I didn't know said she'd run right out tomorrow and buy one of my books. An aquantance said "Never mind, I'll lend you one." I could have said something like snatching the food from my children's mouths, but I let it go.

Charles benoit said...

Hold on - she put you in the same stack as Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard? I wish someone would insult me like that!

John Corrigan said...

I was once told "great literature" should make you laugh, cry, and think. HAMLET does that. You're in good company.

Rick Blechta said...

Was it Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen who wrote Hamlet? I forget.

Charles, the sad thing about this was that she wasn't comparing me to them, nor was a trying to write a novel like that.