The cure for bestselleritis.
By Don DeGrazia
MAY 8, 2000:
"Martin Eden" by Jack London
I used to hate novels about writers until I read this tragic roman a clef about an illiterate dockworker's autodidactic transformation into a brilliant man of letters.
"Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson
One of the most important and influential works in American literature; a young small-town newspaper reporter comes of age amidst a collection of "grotesques" who live and die in Winesburg.
"All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren
(Harcourt Brace, $19)
Even more memorable than the thinly-veiled Huey Long character is the narrator, Jack Burden, a disenchanted burnout writer who lugs his romantic thesis, covered in fading brown paper, from furnished room to furnished room.
"Cakes and Ale" by Somerset Maugham
A gentle, moving novel about the English writing life.
"Black Boy/American Hunger" by Richard Wright
(Harperperennial Classics, $12)
The second half, which shows Wright's ascent into the world of writing, isn't included in many editions, but it's a wonderful account of an independent thinker's fate as a permanent outsider.
"The Chicago Conspiracy Trial" by John Schultz
(out of print)
This non-fiction novel about one young reporter's impressions of the titled trial is THE definitive account of the upheaval surrounding the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention.
"The Red Cavalry" by Isaac Babel
(out of print)
A startling, unforgettable collection set during the Russian Revolution, drawn from the Soviet master's personal experience as the ultimate fish-out-of-water -- a Jewish intellectual who rode with the Cossacks.
"Forced Entries" by Jim Carroll
A cool and often hilarious continuation of "The Basketball Diaries," wherein Jim sinks deeper into his twin addictions -- junk and journaling.
"Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" by Mario Vargas Llosa
Even though the protagonist here is a young man sharing the author's name and occupation, this is a fictional tale of love and the writing process.
"The Beggar's Shore" by Zak Mucha
(Red 71 Press, $12.95)
Just a great recent novel set in Chicago's Uptown -- doesn't have a thing to do with writers. Aside from the above nine, I generally don't like novels about writers.