Author-Spotting for Amateurs

It’s summer! Time to get out those binoculars and spot some writers. If you are unable to find writers, a simple whiskey trail should suffice to lure them to your backyard. Be on the lookout for these newly identified species.

Bird 9Laureatos bolanos
The dead foreign writer who wrote eight 6,000-page recently translated novels that everyone but you somehow has time to discover and read and talk about over the course of one summer, and what the hell, don’t you people have jobs?

Infamosos breadloafiiBird 13
The writer who’s famous only among writers. And not necessarily for his work, good as it may be—but for rustic fashion sense or scandalous antics at writers’ conferences in the ‘80s or his charming southern drawl. You realize, to your shock, that your non-writer friends have never heard of the guy. You try to explain: but at AWP, he’s like Elvis! They don’t get it.

Bird 3Incognita infortunata
You’ve never heard of her before, but she’s written this lovely story, and look at her bio in the back of the lit mag: five collections, three well-reviewed novels. You ask around and no one else has heard of her, either. No one. You plan to find more of her work. But now you’re too depressed to leave the house.

Nomen tefloniiBird 11
You’ve probably heard his name five thousand times, but it simply will not stick between your ears because the poor guy is called Dan Philips or John White or something. Have you heard about his new novel? Maybe. Probably. It’s got, like, House in the title, or Water. The next time someone asks if you’ve heard of him, you’ll be equally unsure.

Bird 8Photographicos gorgeousos
The writer whose author photo you have a crush on. Not the author himself, just the photo. If you were still ten years old and into kissing photos for practice, you know… Just saying.

Clichea retroactivaBird 4
The classic writer whose work is so iconic that by the time you read it, it winds up feeling clichéd because you’ve read all the imitations.

Bird 14Kevinus somethingus
It’s one of the Kevins. We’re not sure which. He’s probably pretty good. Most of the Kevins are. (cf: Jonathanus somethingus and Lydia somethinga)

Bird 22Juvenalis talentis
The writer you kind of have issues with because she’s younger than you, and how dare she be younger than you?

Fitzgeraldus pecunious dodo
(Believed extinct.) Known, in the ‘20s and ‘30s, to pop off the occasional short story just to pay the bills. You know, slave away at the novel, run out of booze money in the Riviera, spend the weekend writing a “commercial short story” (a what?) and sell it to the Saturday Evening Post for three thousand dollars. Easy-peasy.

Bird 16Psycopathus genderselectivus
The older male writer everyone’s way too eager to forgive for his utter failure to imagine interiority for any female character. Why do they still love him? No idea. It’s the equivalent of being a great writer except when it comes to nouns, verbs, and prepositions. Don’t forget that this writer is Tremendously Important. He gets the big prizes, and people worry about him dying. You see a magazine with the words “Greatest Living Writer” on the cover. You open it up. Yeah. Of course it’s him. Except that he’s not.

Pretentiousus experimentaliiBird 21
The writer whose rabid young fans seem to have read no one else, and can’t understand why you don’t revere the man and the novel he wrote from the point of view of a Snapple bottle. Usually referred to by initials only.

Bird 12Nobela internationalia
This writer is very, very important in Myanmar. You feel like an American ass for never hearing of her before, and an even bigger ass for knowing you’re not really going to run out and buy her six-volume epic poem. Admit it.

Inertias ozymandiasBird 1
The writer whose bio on the back of a 1985 paperback is amazing: 26 years old, awards and fellowships, voice of the new generation, and look at those teeth! You Google him to see what he’s been up to, and find he’s teaching freshman comp in Nebraska and hasn’t published since the Clinton administration. (NB: This species known to induce existential panic.)

a swanLuminata notarealhousewifea
This one’s legitimately famous—front-page reviews, appearances on Colbert, hangs out with Obama—and you consider her one of the most influential artists of our time. Then one day you’re talking to someone—your dentist, let’s say—and he asks what you’re reading, and you say this woman’s name. And he looks at you with utter blankness. And you have this moment where you realize you live in a tiny bubble. A tiny, wonderful bubble. And you sit back and let him scrape your teeth and you go, mentally, back to your bubble, because in a world where you have to get your teeth scraped twice a year, you require some beauty. You demand it.

Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?

About Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's second novel, THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, will be available July 10th. She is also the author of THE BORROWER (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, four of which have been anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series. She teaches at Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago, and is the recipient of a 2014 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her website is http://www.rebeccamakkai.com, and she tweets at @rebeccamakkai.
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3 Responses to Author-Spotting for Amateurs

  1. very, very enjoyable and funny!!

  2. John says:

    Spectaclus plasticiae — the young, brooding writer (usually male) with oversized, plastic frame glasses who is “reporting on the soft underbelly of American society.”

    –posted from Bread Loaf

    • And skinny jeans! Yes!

      I love Bread Loaf… And I have to say, the juxtaposition of black-clad, plastic-spectacled smokers leaning against the rustic yellow buildings is one of my favorite parts.

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