Monday, October 19, 2009

A literary society you definitely want to join

In a post last year, I lamented the virtual disappearance of Indiana writer Booth Tarkington from the modern literary consciousness. My cries and lamentations have been heard by John Wilson at Front Porch Republic.

Well, okay, not really. Wilson has probably never even heard of this blog. But for his outstanding idea of creating the Booth Tarkington Appreciation Society we are going to make him an honorary reader of this blog and pretend we thunk it up in the first place.

Here is Wilson on Tarkington:

Like the other two, TBTAS is quite serious. Newton Booth Tarkington (b. 1869, the same year as my Grandfather Willson) was a significant American writer, in some ways the American Anthony Trollope. Trollope was wildly popular during his lifetime and made a lot of money writing (he was unapologetic about writing for money), but his reputation went south amongst the “critics” for almost seven decades because of a supposed lack of ideas and artistic integrity (another way of saying that he wrote for money). Booth Tarkington was wildly popular during his lifetime and made a lot of money writing, but his reputation went south after his death in 1946. Just as Trollope made a comeback in the late 1940s, Tarkington is due for his comeback about now.

Tarkington thrived in the era of mass circulation magazines. Once he figured out what he wanted to write novels about (midwestern families in an age of industrial change) and how he wanted to write them (character development and dialogue as opposed to his over-plotted early works) he found that serialization in The Saturday Evening Post was the perfect vehicle to reach the vast audience of middle class women who had always been the primary readers of novels. Norman Rockwell on the outside, Booth Tarkington on the inside; it was an irresistible combination.

And check this out: one of the benefits of joining what Wilson affectionately calls "TBTAS," is that you get to thumb your nose at the literary establishment:

One of the reasons to join this particular gang is to stand up for The Saturday Evening Post. If you’re an Atlantic Monthly kind of guy you might not like TBTAS.

Sign me up.

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