This Week in Literary History: Money isn't Everything
August 1 is the birthday of American novelist and poet, Herman Melville. He's the one who wrote the 800-page novel about whale fishing. You know, this one. While Melville never got to live up his literary celebrity in his lifetime (he only made about $10,000 from all his writings), in death he has been recognized as one of the greats. If American literature were an ocean, Melville would totally be a really big whale.
On August 3, 1861 (ten years after Moby Dick), Charles Dickens published the third installment of arguably his greatest work, Great Expectations. By this time, Dickens was already a wildly popular writer in both the U.S. and across the pond in Britain, and unlike Melville, was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor in his lifetime. Harper's Magazine has an article that explores in depth the influence that Dickens had on Melville's work.
There's success as a literary celebrity, then there is success as a literary celebrity who is also the President of the United States. August 4 was the 49th birthday of Barack Obama, our Commander in Chief and the author of two books, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Obama reigned in a 1.9 million dollar advance for a three book deal from his publisher. Every president since 1952 has published a book, all commercially successful but kind of a drag, considering real writers like Melville didn't even make enough bring home the bacon. Dreams From My Father is supposed to be actually good though; Phillip Roth was even a fan, calling it "well done and very persuasive and memorable too."
As I was flipping through the Winter/Spring 2010 issue of Sycamore Review, I came across Rebecca Longster's review of Steve Hely's novel, How I Became A Famous Novelist. The book is about a "voluntarily-down-on-his-luck writer" who seeks vengeance on his former college girlfriend by becoming a famous novelist so he can "steal [her] thunder at her own wedding." The book's protagonist follows a prescriptive formula for novel writing and pumps out a bestseller. Chaos, hilarity, and self-reflection ensue. Check out Rebecca Longster's review of the book Herman Melville should have read by picking up a copy of Sycamore Review. You can buy a copy of Hely's novel online, here.