A few weeks ago my friend Steve asked me to be on a panel for the Mark Twain House’s writers’ conference. I tried to figure out what I could contribute to a discussion of the “American voice” in literature. Panic ensued.
I began my searches by reading from David Bowie’s list of 100 favorite books. Who better to explain American lit than a Brit ex-pat? Plus he included The Street on that list, so his taste was obviously impeccable. I eliminated the Europeans and quasi-Europeans (Nabokov) along with the music related works.
Had made my way through Herzog (Bellow), Kafka Was the Rage (Anatole Broyard), As I Lay Dying (Faulkner). As the day approached, I cut out nonfiction and forged ahead with Passing (Nella Larsen).
Steve then mentioned that it was the American voice in contemporary fiction. Yikes! A quick mental review produced only Gone Girl and California as works of recent vintage. I grabbed Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which quickly left New Jersey for the Dominican Republic, so I picked up Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.
Then a reprieve! The conference will occur in September instead of this weekend.
Reviews will follow, as will the reading. So far, I understand Bowie’s every selection, all but for Passing. It seems terribly dated and must have been when he read it.