Today’s Observer newspaper has an article by Robert McCrum positing the question, ‘A literary Career or a brilliant one-off? Take your pick.’
McCrum is reflecting on something Malcom Gladwell said on a book tour in the UK this week about how he is drawn to artists with long careers and consistency in their work, citing the musician Paul Simon. What really caught my attention in McCrum’s piece was this paragraph:
“Either way, in songs or novels, sustaining a lifetime’s work as a writer is exceedingly difficult. Most literary careers begin, and possibly end, before the age of 40. Some fly too close to the sun, and fall to earth; others give up, exhausted and demoralised.”
I have a lot of time for McCrum and for his take on literature, particularly his view that much of the literary establishments in the UK and USA are too narcissistic and introspectively focused on what emerges from London and New York. In this case, McCrum’s piece is full of conflicts and assumptions about writers.
McCrum must surely appreciate that most authors, no matter how successful, never reach their literary prime until after their 40’s. And ironically, Paul Simon who Gladwell speaks about on his book and lecture tour had his most critical and best-selling album, Graceland, long after he was 40.