Pico Iyer, Canada’s expat book noticer, has a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing in a recent Times Literary Supplement (no link, sorry — subscribers only. I know, I know). He has much praise for Cohen, which makes me happy. I think Lenny deserves the Nobel, easily as much as Dylan.
However, I disagree with Iyer’s broader point in the piece, which seems to be that we disrespect the writing of songwriters by not thinking of them as part of Literature.
For instance, he congratulates Cohen and Dylan and the like for engaging with God and big topics along those lines. By contrast, he has this to say about writers of fiction:
“The same writers who think nothing of writing of masturbation, sanitary napkins or their midlife crises take a breath, and usually walk away, before addressing the religious or romantic ideas that Shakespeare or Donne would have taken on daily.”
Who is Iyer reading? Candace Bushnell?
The problem is not so much that writers of serious fiction, the Roths and Coetzees and Atwoods etc. aren’t thinking big; it’s that thinking big while writing subtly and miraculously sells considerably less than The DaVinci Code, or your average Dylan record for that matter.
Iyer also quotes Bruce Springsteen from his introduction of U2 at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
“A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible fire that fuelled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.”
Iyer asks “When was the last time you heard another writer introduce a colleague like that?”
Um, when was the last time there was a Writing Hall of Fame induction ceremony?
I love the Boss and all. I listen to him almost exclusively on my long drives through the United States. But judging by that one small sample above, I’m unlikely to pick up his next novel.