As we age, our tastes change. They solidify, they mature, based on our experiences and encounters. It happens to me with food, movies, films, flowers, and books.
What I look for in books is either material that moves me or changes my worldview in some unexpected way, or something that instructs me in an area about which I previously knew almost nothing. Even mysteries fit into the second category. Recently, I Ďve learned more about the art world and about Native American archaeology, for example, from two new mystery novels.
That said, this will be a curmudgeonly review. There is nothing apparently wrong with Famous Writers School, a second novel by Steven Carter (his first was I Was Howard Hughes). It is amusing, clever, well worded. Wendell Newton runs a correspondence school where aspiring novelists can receive feedback and lesson plans for a reasonable fee. His three current students are diverse in lifestyle and talent: Rio is a sexy singer and a serious Ph.D. candidate; Dan, the most talented of the lot, is writing a complex detective story; and Linda begins to become unhinged by the novelís completion. They all are worse at relationships than they are at writing. Aspiring writers can actually learn a few things from the teacher, Wendell Newton. Although not good at feedback, his lesson plans are quite inspired.
I learned almost nothing from Famous Writers School, except possibly an experimental way to write a novel, in letter/ draft format, told, interchangeably, in four peopleís voices. And, in the end, I didnít give a hoot about any of the characters. None of them warmed my heart although they were all, at times, quite funny. I liked some of the stories embedded in the main story Ė and some of the secondary characters -- but all in all, I just didnít care how the stories or book ended. For me, itís a bit like Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. While I see he is funny and immensely talented, I donít really care for him. Jon Stewart is another matter, a bit more old-fashioned, a bit less cynical. Heís kinder, more reflective, less concerned with looking clever.
This is writing at its most clever, which leaves me, as a 50-something college English instructor, out in the cold. The audience for this book is most assuredly 20-somethings. I am quite certain that my 18
to 25-year-old students would love it far more than I do. So, while I am not saying this is a bad book (itís not), I am not the perfect reader for this kind of unorthodox novel.