Sunday, June 16, 2013
Joyce Carol Oates Turns 75
The number of books that Joyce Carol Oates has written rivals her age. Considering the fact that she’s turning 75 this year, that number is staggering. This prolific and versatile author has penned novels, short story collections, poems, plays, essays, and criticism. And she’s not one of those writers who churns out formulaic books that make you wonder if she’s sitting at home spinning large wheels labeled “plot” and “character” and then plugging in whatever comes up. Oates is a well-respected literary giant whose writing in all genres is enviable.
It’s hard to say what’s most interesting about her. She’s purported to write for eight hours every day (a professor I know once went to a party where she was in attendance. Apparently, as soon as she was ready to leave, she got into the backseat of the car, pulled out a laptop, and began writing on the ride home). She has two pseudonyms (Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly). She’s won numerous accolades such as an O. Henry Award, a PEN/Malamud Award, and a National Humanities Medal. She’s written several historical novels, including ones about Marilyn Monroe and The Chappaquiddick Incident. Besides writing, her other obsession is running. At Princeton she advised Jonathan Safran Foer’s senior thesis, which eventually became his best-selling novel, Everything Is Illuminated. In short, she’s really a one of a kind.
We have quite a number of her books in the library catalog. But if you’ve never read her, where do you begin? Many critics have compiled lists to help J.C.O. newbies first navigate her daunting oeuvre. Here are some of their recommendations, with a few of my own mixed in:
We Were the Mulvaneys
I'll Take You There
High and Lonesome: New and Selected Stories ,1966-2006
Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart
The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares