Sage advice from a character in Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (Vintage, 2003):
[Nagasawa] was a far more voracious reader than me, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least 30 years. “That’s the only kind of book I can trust,” he said.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short…
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs.”
I get the feeling that Murakami may have been unpopular at school.
He makes an exception, this Nagasawa, for The Great Gatsby, whose author, at the time at which this conversation takes place in the book, has been dead for only twenty-eight years. Nagasawa’s response: “So what? Two years? Fitzgerald’s advanced.”
Among the writers that, by Nagasawa’s lights, we can all start reading in 2013 are Hideo Kobayashi, Arthur Koestler, Rebecca West, Jerzy Andrzejewski – oh, and Hergé. Something to look forward to.
At one stage in his career, the American journalist and writer Upton Sinclair wrote 8,000 words of fiction a day, seven days a week. This was because he was a writer for the pulps (you really ought to click this link – it’s only Wiki, but there’s more fascinating stuff there than I could squeeze into a dozen Clutterbucks). A pulp writer, it was said, had to write a million words a year to turn a profit.
And this, bear in mind, was in a genre – or, rather, an industry – in which flimflam and excessive verbiage (“wordage fat”, in pulp parlance) were just not tolerated. You couldn’t pad your story out with lyrical meditations on love and mortality (although you could always just bung in another sex-scene or knife-fight). Everything was stripped to the bone. It was mostly awful, but by god it was punchy.
Raymond Chandler got his start as a writer at Black Mask, the king of the pulp magazines, making his début in 1933 with ‘Blackmailers Don’t Shoot’. There’s a great chapter on this era – as Chandler the soon-to-be drunk succeeded the already-very-much-a-drunk Dashiell Hammett as the genre’s champion – in Tom Hiney’s biography of Chandler (Random House, 1997).
You can explore pulpworld more thoroughly at the excellent Pulp Magazines Project.