The author of Ecclesiastes was a very wise man, and never more so than when he intoned: “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (King James Version).
He must have had Joyce Carol Oates in mind.
Joyce Carol Oates seems to have written most of the novels, short stories, crime fiction, horror tales, poetry, drama, essays and literary criticism since the Kennedy administration.
Really, Joyce Carol Oates writes so much—How much does she write, Chauncey?—no, really, Joyce Carol Oates writes so much, she could stop global warming just by taking a vacation.
That’s how many trees she’d save.
By my count, and I may have nodded off during the tally, Joyce Carol Oates has published since 1963 something like 88 or 89 novels, novellas and short story collections. That is to say, fiction for adults.
Most Americans read a book a year, or less, so that’s more than a lifetime of reading for most of us.
Include the other categories, and the number of volumes published by this one person is well over 120, which means only yogurt-eating peasants in the Caucasus Mountains will live long enough to read them all.
Now I’ll concede Joyce Carol Oates is a bit of a genius. Indeed, for most of the 1990s I went around telling all and sundry that she was America’s greatest living writer, deserving of the Nobel prize.
I admired some of her twisted early novels—“Wonderland” and “Childwold,” especially—and many of her short stories will live forever.
But with the 2000 publication of “Blonde,” an entirely superfluous fictional account of Marilyn Monroe’s sad life, Joyce Carol Oates, for all her skill and dark, dark imagination, fell into that pit awaiting all excessively prolific authors.
Now to my utter amazement I have on my desk a book with the absurd title “The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1983.”
Aw come on, Joyce Carol Oates. Give a poor book reviewer a break! Clearly, all you do is write. When would you have had the time to keep a journal? Further, since all you do is write, what could you have possibly had to write in your journal about?
Hmmm ... thumbing at random, because I sure as Hades ain’t gonna read this sucker, ah, yes, chosen entirely by chance: “... Can one `enjoy’ moderate fame, and also retain a private life?”
Sure, Joyce Carol Oates, if ALL YOU DO IS WRITE.
And here on the facing page: “At the age of forty one should attempt a complete re-evaluation of one’s life. Perhaps.”
Yeah, well that must have kept Joyce Carol Oates occupied at least 30 seconds, since YOU DON’T HAVE A LIFE.
I don’t care how big your genius may be, Joyce Carol Oates, you can’t depend on it for your entire artistic impulse. You have to have some life experience to feed into the machine. Otherwise, what you’re doing with all that writing is not self-expression, it’s hypergraphia.
So please, Joyce Carol Oates, allow your humble former admirer the temerity of a suggestion or three:
Take a vacation. Go to the mall. Get drunk. Buy something so gaudy and useless you feel guilty. Have an affair. Convert to Islam. Adopt a Cambodian orphan. Ride a Harley across North America. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Eat more food.
Catch a game at Fenway Park. Take a Caribbean cruise. Watch four episodes of “Law & Order” without changing the channel. Engage at least three strangers in pointless conversation.
Buy a dress Wal-mart and wear it at least once a week. Wear the Wal-mart dress to Dollywood. Ride all the rides. Raft down West Virginia’s New River. Go skating at Rockefeller Center Christmas Eve.
Wait your turn.
Canvas a neighborhood for Mitt Romney, or Hillary Clinton, or Dennis Kucinich. Or Barack Obama, Fred Thompson, Rudy Guiliani. Book yourself on “The Colbert Report” and try to be funny. Live in Buenos Aries for three months without telling anyone who you are. Sit quietly in a room.
Give unsolicited love advice to someone talking too loud on a cell phone. Drive hard enough to get a speeding ticket. Spend a week at Vicksburg, walking the battlefield. Take up a hobby that doesn’t involve words or composition. Drink a baby Coke. Attend an “open” AA meeting.
Don’t take notes.
Get your news exclusively from Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck for one month. Tutor English to inner-city kids in Baltimore. Live in downtown Denver one summer and walk to every Rockies’ home game. Go sky diving near Lake Okeechobee. Buy a hammock. A kayak. A unicycle. A harmonica. A handgun.
Learn to use each of them proficiently.
Paint 15 pictures in the style of Frida Kahlo. Spend a weekend at a nudist resort. Participate in a seance, prayer meeting or Reiki session. Try chewing tobacco or snuff. Go club hopping in Beverly Hills.
Leave your underwear at home.
Don’t write. Don’t write. Don’t write. Don’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, for at least nine months. See what grows inside you.
Maybe after following such a program, you’ll again write something worth reading, but if it’s not at least as good as Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, then don’t publish it.
Because right now, the notion of picking up another new Joyce Carol Oates book wearies my flesh mightily, indeed.