Nobel Laureate Alice Munro wasn’t to be the subject of my blog today, but her win is too wonderful to pass up. Her excellent writing has touched many hearts and has astounded me with its sense of both the wonder and the strangeness at the human predicament. I’m not going to try to summarize her work; others have done a fine job of that already. I’ll only say that a Munro story is a special treat, even when the characters drive me bats with their lack of good judgment. For years I’ve been following her work in The New Yorker, saving her stories until I finish reading the rest of the magazine. This replicates the five year-old’s cake-eating technique — they cake-y part first, the sweet lump of icing last.
OK, so that’s not what you’d call high-end literary criticism, but today’s a party day, a sweet-icing treat for writing in Canada and everywhere.
Here’s what I’d like to add: I admire Alice Munro not only for her literary achievement but for her genuine humility — her gracious acceptance of what life gives and takes; how well she walks the path between false modesty and self-aggrandizement. She attends to her calling as a writer, wins awards, expresses gratitude, goes back to writing. She doesn’t tweet and she’s not in our face on Facebook. Maybe it’s timing; just the good fortune of having established a solid reputation long before the days of social media and enforced do-it-yourself publicity.
Yet I suspect it’s more than that. No one’s excempt from the lure of consumer culture; even long-time literary icon Margaret Atwood turned up in The New Yorker this week — not in writing but in a Rolex watch ad. Simplicity of spirit? Get over it. The notion that the writing is more important than the writer’s celebrity edge, that a book is the writer’s gift to us, that its creation is something of a mystery sounds so passé. We’re told that the reader wants more, needs to “know” and “interact” with the writer, who’s already given everything they have in order to produce a beautiful novel or short story collection. The mystery has to be unpacked, deconstructed, played with, disposed of. The gift is no longer enough.
Now we’re all feeding the beast one way or another; we promote our books through social media by making ourselves as visible as possible, struggling to find the middle path between the merely pushy and the obnoxious. In fairness, this connectivity is often informative and a lot of fun. But it doesn’t bring the joy of silence, the ineffable moment of discovery that draws you to whatever wondrous light brightens the page and lets the words come. You can’t buy that.
Yet hope’s always with us. Let’s raise a glass to Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, a modest and reticent writer who declares her brilliance by her writing alone. May her refreshing example give us pause.