January 15, 2009

Literary Encounters

My 29th birthday was two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. A day before my birthday I got into an introspective mood, thinking of what I've done in the last year (received my Master's degree, finished a novel, friended more than 50 people on Facebook, overall not too bad), and what I'd like to get done in the next one (get my novel published, finish a collection of short stories, get into a normal relationship, better health, personal growth, win the lottery, et cetera). I also thought, vain as I am, whether there are any living writers I would like to meet (as if all it took is my desire to meet them and they would appear before me, smoking a pipe and eager to discuss Kafka).

Unfortunately, my literary tastes are unfashionable, trailing behind the rest of the world by about half a century, so there are very few living writers I would be interested in meeting. Even of the few living writers that I admire, I wouldn't necessarily want to meet any of them. For example, I think J. M. Coetzee is a brilliant writer, but he also seems to be a morose and pompous windbag (though I identified deeply with the protagonist of his third-person autobiography Youth; so much so, in fact, that I had to discard the novel I was working on at the time because the protagonist seemed too similar).

I did happen to see Philip Roth walking down Broadway a few months ago, and though I'm not his biggest fan (The Zuckerman Trilogy, which I read all at once, exhausted me, each book being worse than the last, with the Prague Orgy epilogue its only saving grace), I would have liked to talk to him. Here, however, is the problem - even if you do meet some writer randomly, what the hell are you supposed to tell him? That you like his work? I'm sure he's heard that before. That you're a writer too? Whoopdee-freakin'-do. Are you supposed to start critiquing his work to show that you get it, that you're not just another sycophantic suck up?

Anyway, getting back to the day before my birthday, imagining the best of all circumstances, I finally hit upon one living writer I admire greatly and would like to meet without reservations - Harold Pinter. I've been a Pinter fan since my first year as an undergrad, when I read The Birthday Party in my Intro to Drama class. Since then I haven't read anything by him that I did not like, or at least appreciated on some level. Furthermore, from everything I've read about him, he seemed to be engaging and friendly. Meeting him is probably the closest thing to meeting Beckett. Then, on my birthday, Harold Pinter passed away, and I felt worse than on any previous birthday. I'm afraid to name any other living writer I'd like to meet for fear that I might kill him.

Pinter as Krapp in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape

Later that night I had dinner with a couple of friends, then we went from bar to bar, looking for Christmas cheer. At one bar we ran into Gary Shteyngart (author of Absurdistan), but we were all too drunk to say anything clever or meaningful, and after exchanging bland words (it was one of his friends' birthday too) we moved on to the next bar.

For more about Harold Pinter I suggest two articles:

No comments:

Post a Comment