Monday, June 26, 2006

The First Time

I read a wonderful (and long) article in Bookforum over the weekend about the allure of the first novel. Why is so much made of them when a first novel is rarely the author's best? And what do you count as a first novel anyway? What if, like some of the authors in the article, you've written two or three novels before writing the novel that finally gets published? Jonathan Lethem says that in a strange way Motherless Brooklyn, his fifth published novel, is often seen as his debut by both critics and readers alike. It's the book for which he got noticed. I know a number of people who love first novels, they hope they are getting in on the discovery of the next greatest author. Personally, I tend to shy away from first novels especially if it is a $25 hard cover and the book jacket compares the author to Dickens or some other favorite classic author. I like to wait for others to read the book and tell me if it is worth my time. But on occasion I take an early plunge, Yann Martel's Life of Pi was a pleasure as was Zafon's Shadow of the Wind and Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife. Then, of course, it is great fun telling everyone about the amazing new book I found and urging them to read it. Of course there is the economic aspect of the first novel. In today's publishing climate it is difficult for someone whose first novel sold only 2,000 copies to find someone who will publish the second novel. It is a sad thing because I would expect the second book to be better. Publishers don't seem to cultivate authors like they did long ago. I was shocked when I read Mockingbird to find out how much time Harper Lee's editor spent with her in rewriting and rewriting and rewriting some more. I am not an industry insider but from my vantage point it appears that things like that don't happen anymore. It makes me wonder what we are missing out on because of it. While I am on the topic of first novels, I found out from the article that Proust's first novel was Jean Santeuil coming in at over 1,000 pages. It wasn't published until after Proust's death (does that still make it a first?) and is notable for containing the beginnings of Proust's theory of involuntary memory which he develops in In Search of Lost Time. I don't know why I found that bit of trivia so interesting, but there you have it. And now that I am on the subject of Proust, the Proust group blog is a go. I plan on setting it up this weekend and sending email "invitations" out (that's the way blogger works for a group) to those who have expressed interest in participating. If you want to participate but have not expressed your desire to do so yet, leave a comment or send me an email. As to the name of the blog, it's down to these choices:

  1. Dipping the Madeleine
  2. The Way of the Cookie
  3. Involuntary Memory
Decisions! Decisions!