Claire Messud  

Claire Messud  

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 26 1997 3:30 AM

Claire Messud  

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       While we were watching the Oscars, my husband asked me if I thought we would ever have reason to go to them. Although my husband does a fine George Steiner impersonation, I was forced to answer "no." I said I'd rather go to the Nobel Prize ceremonies anyway. We then tried to think of writers one might find in both places. William Faulkner is the only one we could think of who really might have been. Maybe Michael Ondaatje will make it to Stockholm some day. We could see Toni Morrison, gilded statuette in hand. It was more difficult to picture Nadine Gordimer or Naguib Mahfouz or Wislawa Szymborska up there wisecracking with Billy Crystal.
       I spend my days fretting about the fate of literature. Or, more bluntly, my fate in literature. I have agreed to read unpublished manuscripts for a literary prize--novel manuscripts--and my living room is strewn with them. By the boxload. Novels about beer. Novels about computer hackers. Novels about incest. Novels about incestuous beer-drinking computer hackers. Our building's philosophizing janitor reminded me today, in the words of Winston Churchill, that we are what we read. I hope it is not true.
       I do not like to have so many manuscripts in my house. I find it most disconcerting that all we novelists think our visions are special and important and irreplaceable. What a horrible thought. I have always considered my perceptions to be curiously significant, ever since I was a child; but thinking so is premised, of course, on the unmentionable notion that most other people's aren't. It's inescapable. These manuscripts make me realize how many people think their visions are special and interesting too. I frequently do not find them so. Alas, I deduce, in return, that these hordes of writers would probably feel about my efforts as I do about theirs.

Claire Messud is the author of When the World Was Steady (1995), a novel.