Monday, January 21, 2013

On Being 35

Don DeLillo published his first novel in 1971. He was 34. His publisher was Houghton Mifflin.

Today I'm 35. In 43 days, Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets will be published by Houghton Mifflin.

Don DeLillo is my favorite author. I'm never good at explaining why without sounding pedantic and hyper. Maybe it's like people who love The Grateful Dead. Hard to explain because it's the concert experience as much as, or more than, the music. For me, DeLillo writes sentences that fit neatly into neat crevices of my brain.

I do not write like him, though I admire his scope, his sentences, his sensibility.

I think of him today to help remember that there is no need to obsess over the age at which I achieved success, but simply celebrate that I did achieve it. Writing is difficult. Getting published is too. Seeing a book enter the world deserves celebration. While I once thought I could publish a novel in college or in my twenties, I followed a different course of action.

I didn't know how to write a good novel back then anyway, though I could read and analyze great ones easily.

Here's hoping my career lasts as long as DeLillo's has and that I gather up a few superfans along the way.
New covers for DeLillo's novels for Picador

I'm never good at telling people which DeLillo novel to start with since White Noise is funnier than most of his other works and might set people up to expect the same style in everything else. Libra is brilliant but might bore people who don't like historically informed fiction where the ending (Lee Oswald kills JFK and then gets killed by Jack Ruby) is already known. Underworld is too long for first-timers. On the opposite side, Cosmopolis is somewhat slight though it's the one I'm more likely to suggest for people who tried White Noise and didn't get it. Mao II is great for PhD aspirants and writers, but not for DeLillo newcomers. End Zone is a novel that's almost better as George Carlin's stand up bit about how Football is like nuclear war. Point Omega is great if you've read everything else, but not a standalone novel. Falling Man wasn't funny enough for people who were mad that DeLillo didn't immediately write a 9/11 book.

And so on.

For fun, some reviews of DeLillo's debut novel, Americana.

New York Times: May 6, 1971 - "Old Story, Fresh Language" review of Americana by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. An excerpt:
DeLillo made me the willing victim of his verbal assaults. He rearranged my brain cells to think the world his way and to continue composing DeLillo-like phrases long after I had laid his book aside.

Detroit News: June 27, 1971 - "Young man at the brink of self-destruction" review of Americana by Joyce Carol Oates, Page 5-E. Her conclusion:
If Americana comes to no completion, suggests no solution for its young hero's problems, it is only fulfilling its own promise of exploration without entrapment. It is a robust and intellectually exciting work, suffering only the usual defects of such writing - sequences that go on for too long, running on their own manic energy.DeLillo is to be congratulated for having accomplished one of the most compelling and sophisticated of "first novels" that I have ever read.