We decided to try something new here at failbetter.com: Advice! If you have any questions about, well, anything tangentially related to literature in all its forms, books, or the search for meaning in life, love and letters, let us know!
For example, Have you ever wondered why all movies that feature writers tend to portray (us) them as neurotic, tortured, maniacal and/or curmudgeonly? And how is it possible that Ethan Hawke seems to embody all of these characteristics at once? Then this is your forum!
Email Fiction Editor Tom Batten with your queries and we’ll try our best to get them answered: firstname.lastname@example.org
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I’m curious for your take on what’s probably the most pressing literary issue of the moment—what do you see as the future of the book?
Your question is a little vague so I’ll assume the book you’re asking about is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. For the next few decades Middlemarch will continue on much as it has in the past, read exclusively by English majors and shut-ins. Then, in 2035, Blue Ivy Carter will give the novel a new life when she names her firstborn son after the rogue John Raffles. Copies of Middlemarch will become a must-have fashion accessory (Dame Taylor Swift will appear at the Cyber-Grammys that year wearing a dress made entirely of pages torn from the first edition), and overprinting to meet demand will lead to widespread ecological collapse. We’re talking no more beavers, no more deer, no more owls…as for woodpeckers, don’t get too attached. By 2040… you know, I’m going to stop right there. In 2040 I’ll be 59 years old. Still young! But not that young. If I have a child of my own this year they’ll be 27 in 2040. 27 was an all right age. Seems like I was 27 just yesterday, now I’m 32. And let’s be honest, I won’t be starting a family in the next year. You know why? Because I’m too busy fielding questions about the future of the book when I should be out there meeting people. I tell you, I see these families walking around, parents my age, and I want to walk up to them and ask, How did this happen? What did you say or do to get what you have?
Cynthia, that’s a woman’s name. Cynthia, I want you to feel free to write in with a question any time you have one, and maybe next time send a picture of yourself, too.
I’ve recently completed writing a trilogy of novels exploring a world where Ernest Hemingway faked his death in order to join an ancient society of vampire hunters. Do you think there is a market for something like that? Or should I do like my wife wants and ask for my old job at the foundry back?
I think your wife really nailed this one, buddy. If I were you I’d get back down to that foundry and beg beg beg until they put you back on the payroll. Tell you what, I’m feeling magnanimous today, so how about I go ahead and take the rights to the whole series off your hands. I’m going to go ahead and send you a check for…how about ten bucks? I’m taking a loss here but I want you to get something for your hard work and I think it’ll be easier for you to move on with your life if pushing ahead with this ridiculous idea is totally off the table. I’m going to have my lawyer go ahead and send over the contracts today. Make sure you sign them before I come to my senses. One question—is there a part where F. Scott Fitzgerald is the king of the vampires and he and Hemingway do battle across the 20th and 21st century?
For real, though. Sign those contracts ASAP
I’m trying to seduce a woman by appearing more intellectual and cultured and I need a little help…what’s a cool way to talk about poems?
Answer fast, she’s in the bathroom,
Really, talking about poetry almost never works. What you should do is find out more about her relationship with her father and work that…if he was withholding, be a little withholding. Maybe she never felt like he approved of her, suddenly you’re not so impressed either. That kind of thing. If you are dead set on the poetry angle, though, here are some quotes you might find handy…
Alexander Ducat wrote in 1963 that a poem is “a canister that when opened reveals infinite canisters.” In 1965 Shannon Cromwell wrote that poetry “Is the sea, the anchor, the sun; everything but the boat.” Jay Sturges, moments before being executed for treason in 1971, told an Army chaplain that he had no regrets, for “regrets are for lesser men, and I am a poet. A poet takes his regrets and folds them into airplanes that he launches ceaselessly into the sun.” In 1996, poet Amala Ford told an audience in Tom’s River New Jersey that “poetry is neither the penis nor the vagina, but the friction.”
Now look, I don’t know what any of that means (except for the last one, sort of) but it doesn’t matter because she won’t either and if you act like everything you’re saying makes perfect sense she’ll be too embarrassed to admit she’s not following you. Then it’s off to the races.