Or why you should read Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
I think a lot of people who read novels as a hobby feel like they too will one day sit down and write a book. As a person who is always reading a book, I know I sometimes wonder if I have a novel in me. (And if I ever do, I will write in secret, dump it on my most read-dy and kind friends and then hide it from the world because it probably will be kind of terrible!) As an avid reader I'm pretty fascinated by what makes writers tick, what drives someone to not just entertain the notion of spending hours and hours creating an artificial world but to actually do it.
Wonder Boys is a novel that examines why someone might be driven to be a writer.
The kernel the Wonder Boys is constructed around is that the desire to write fiction novels stems from a kind of personal defect, some kind of internal hole in the author's life that needs to be filled. Maybe it's fiction is the family the author never had, or the lies that are preferable to the author's life. Or perhaps its some perverse need for chaos or excitement that isn't satisfied by real life. Or maybe a need to connect to something larger than mundane life. Regardless, the result is the Midnight Disease where a person is compelled to write even if it is to the detriment of the author's health or sanity or relationships. This is the theme upon which Wonder Boys hangs.
From a plot perspective Wonder Boys is about struggling author Grady Tripp as his life basically falls apart. His marriage is in trouble, the woman he is having an affair with has important news, his talented, attractive student has a crush on him, he smokes too much marihuana, and worse, his editor is coming to town. But Tripp's biggest problem is his next novel, Wonder Boys, a sprawling behemoth of a manuscript nowhere near an ending that is criminally overdue. And so Tripp, along with gawky, film-obsessed, aspiring novelist James Leer, go on a belligerent misadventure of ever increasing complexity that threatens to save them both and promises their ultimate undoing. It's a darkly hilarious story packed full of social awkwardness, emotional complexity, and the Midnight Disease.
I really enjoyed this book.... it's not exactly fun, since its comedy is so fraught and it stabs me, as many dark comedies do, right in the barely-under-control-social-anxiety organ. So reading Wonder Boys was kind of this wonderful borderline panic attack for me. It makes recommending this book a little tough for me, because "Here, try this book, it's really well written and really great and made me want to crawl out of my skin and die while riding the bus," is kind of an accurate summary of my thoughts on this book. But Wonder Boys is beautifully written and provides this fascinating insight into why some people at least are driven to make fiction. If you are not an especially socially anxious person (and maybe if you are) you should maybe try Wonder Boys. That said, if you want to try a Michael Chabon novel that won't make you want to take up being a hermit in the mountains but will still make you feel feels and show you amazing, insightful prose, I 100% recommend you try either The Yiddish Policemen's Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay
The Yiddish Policemen's Union