An article I published in The Tyee almost two years ago has taken on a second life, with readers pouring in to read it. And it also attracted the attention of NPR's Talk of the Nation, with host John Donvan. Today we talked about it, and now WBUR has posted a transcript: From Kerouac To Rand, 'Harmful' Reads For Writers. You can listen to the full 17-minute interview here. Excerpt from the transcript:
So Crawford Kilian, a writer and columnist for The Tyee, joins us via Skype from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Thanks very much for coming onto the show.
CRAWFORD KILIAN: It's a real pleasure.
DONVAN: So you tell aspiring writers - and let's just say writers - in no uncertain terms to stay away from certain books. Why? What's the polluting factor in those books?
KILIAN: I think you might call it the kids-don't-try-this-at-home effect.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KILIAN: In many cases, certainly in my own case as a teenager in the '50s, I read those books. And it took me a while to recover from the seductive influence of, for example, "Catcher in the Rye" because it meant I could essentially be a stenographer for my own teenaged whining, and hey, I'd write a novel that way. Well, it didn't exactly work out that way, and it took me a while to recover, say, from the influence of "Catcher in the Rye" or "For Whom the Bell Tolls." And in the case of "The Lord of the Rings," I - that was a long recovery.
And in - I was truly discouraged 40 years later to see what teenagers were writing on their hot new computers, and they were doing elves and orcs and, you know, magic swords and all that stuff just like "Lord of the Rings." And you have no idea how that discouraged me.
DONVAN: They were doing it but just not as well is what you're saying.
KILIAN: It was that they thought that was the way you were supposed to do it instead of thinking, gee, that was kind of cool. What could I do that would be different but cool too?
KILIAN: So they were too imitative.
DONVAN: And so you're not saying don't imitate "The Catcher in the Rye" because it's a bad book. You're saying don't imitate it because it's a good book, and you can't (unintelligible).
KILIAN: Exactly, exactly. And it's really a kind of one-off. J.D. Salinger never followed up with anything remotely like it himself. And why should we think that yet another, you know, teenaged kvetcher is really what the reading public is yearning for.
DONVAN: Now, you write on top of your list is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.
DONVAN: You write very acerbically about a number of these books, and you say this at least has the virtue of being "so widely read and discussed that we really don't need to read it ourselves. I tried a couple of times and bogged down badly."
KILIAN: It's true.
DONVAN: And so you're making it sound like you actually don't think it's a very good book.
KILIAN: Well, it was a powerful book for a lot of young people, especially young Americans and some Canadians as well, simply because it seemed to be so confident of itself and its radical point of view. And an impressionable kid could read that and think, oh, so that's the way the world really works. Well, now, I know something, and I'm smarter than my folks and all the dummies around me who think that they should take care of each other.
DONVAN: Well, we're...
KILIAN: And we have spent half a century dealing with the consequences of that.
Just for the sake of balance, you can also read the article linked to just below.