Now in many ways, this is a blessing. Given the amazing things she says, I’m glad Bachman is not on my side of the political fence; I don’t want to be allied with such stupidity.
Plus I have to confess that this anecdote shows me one area of agreement with Bachman: I don’t like Gore Vidal’s work either. Granted, I didn’t abandon the Democrats over anything he said, but I did stop bothering with The New York Review of Books after reading one of his reviews.
Back when I lived in Wichita Falls, Texas, in the pre-Internet era, I relied on magazine subscriptions to keep me informed about the real world. Wichita Falls, located at the heart of Tornado Alley, is not one of the most interesting spots in the universe. While I was living there, a feature in Texas Monthly on the worst jobs in Texas included being a full-time resident of Wichita Falls (it sparked both outrage and agreement among the residents). And I can’t say I treated the city all that kindly in my novella Changeling, either, which probably explains why I spent a lot of weekends driving the 280 miles to Austin and subscribed to a lot of magazines, including Rolling Stone and the NYRB.
This was back at the time when I was first starting to read a lot of science fiction. I had always read SF/F as well as other fiction, but I was getting extremely bored with literary fiction, which seemed to focus exclusively on dysfunctional relationships. Science fiction, on the other hand, was full of ideas.
Some literary writers agreed. Doris Lessing began a series called Canopus in Argos, the first book of which was called Shikasta. And Vidal had dipped a toe into the genre himself with Myra Breckinridge.
So the NYRB got Vidal to review Lessing’s Shikasta. I’m sure the editor’s reasoning went something like this: Lessing, a literary writer, has written a science fiction novel. Vidal, who at least thinks of himself as a literary writer, has written a science fiction novel. Therefore he’s the perfect person to review Lessing.
I didn’t actually have to read the review to know that Vidal had trashed the book; the moment I saw that he was the reviewer, I knew he wasn’t going to say anything nice about it.
You should know that I think Lessing is a great writer. The Four-Gated City makes my all-time best books list. And I never thought much of Vidal’s fiction — I know I read one of his novels once, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one. I was familiar with his snarky criticism and general world view, and I knew he was bound to hate Lessing’s work.
And hate it he did. He ends with a suggestion that she leave Sufism for Scientology:
Doris Lessing would do well to abandon the woolly Idries Shah in favor of Mr. L. Ron Hubbard, who has already blazed that trail where now she trods—treads?—trods.
I didn’t cancel my subscription to the NYRB, but I didn’t renew it, either. Instead, I moved to Washington and started reading the The Washington Post’s Book World, which was for many years the best book review publication in the country. (They seem to have cut it way back recently, but the Post still features Michael Dirda, the best book reviewer I have ever read, bar none.)
How much effect do writers have? Think about the books you’ve read and the ones you’ve thrown across the room. How have they changed your life? You may not have changed your political stripes as a result, but I’m willing to bet you can think of some books that upended your world.
My novella Changeling is now available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story. And it’s not about faeries.
My story “New Lives” is in the lastest Book View Cafe ebook anthology, The Shadow Conspiracy II.