The newest Nobel Prize in Literature laureate has been announced: Kazuo Ishiguro. British by residence and Japanese by birth, this wonderful wordsmith is the author of eight books including the highly acclaimed Never Let Me Go, Booker Award winning novel The Remains of the Day (both of which have been adapted into equally prestigious motion pictures), and his latest novel: The Buried Giant, published in 2015 by Random House (Faber & Faber in the UK).
The 62-year-old novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer is preceded as laureate by the greatest writers in history such as Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Alice Munro, and most recently (and controversially) mainstay folk-god Bob Dylan.
What are we talking about when we talk about genre-writing? Dragons exhaling plumes of fire onto legions of nocked and ready archers? Starships engaging their FTL drives to evade the blood-thirsty Martian horde? Serial killers dressed up like everything you fear while killing children? Whodunnit murder mystery’s? Russian spy intrigue?
What we really mean is simple: writing considered by the “literary fiction” community as lesser.
Is there a difference? Literary fiction, genre fiction, and any other segregation of the artistic? Probably not. It’s a marketing thing. It’s all about the platforms book peddlers use to unload their merch.
With that being said, Kazuo Ishiguro may be the closest thing to a genre writer to ever win the Nobel Prize. His novel Never Let Me Go includes highly speculative elements—if nothing else his fiction has worked to disintegrate the boundaries between literary and genre (much like Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, etc.), but has also evaded the even more entrapping genre of slipstream (which, really means: light genre fiction sold as literary fiction).
THE SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT
Genre fiction is not exempt from prejudice—quite to the contrary it had separated itself from its literary counterparts in every way possible. Awards given specifically to speculative fiction (Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, Shirley Jackson, Sturgeon, Eugie) at the bare minimum evenly match those given exclusively to literary fiction.
Is this the way the world is to be? A permanent schism between the penmen of lit and spec? Perhaps, in some future (a sci-fi by its own right) world, we might see a change. But, pretty much this is the way it is.
It’s a marketing thing, an organization thing, it makes sense when you consider it from a business perspective. Because of that, I can find it in my heart to forgive those slimy pigs who hang up the “scifi/fantasy” signs in the bookstore.
In honor of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel win, I’ve decided to reread his eight published books. Starting with Never Let Me Go. Also, given his Nobel win, his name is everywhere! Every major website is posting articles about him, writing about his work, weighing him among the greatest prose stylist of our generations, and he deserves every bit of this attention!
I read an article over at The Guardian, which Kazuo Ishiguro wrote regarding the four-week binge writing session he undertook when drafting his popular novel, The Remains of the Day. (A link is here, plus I’ll put one in the footnotes because you should read it*).
To summarize what he said—he sat down in his study, and worked 13-hour days for four weeks straight—taking small breaks for lunch and dinner. Such a romantic idea of itself! (Plus, Tom Waits’ song “Ruby’s Arms” inspired the protagonist, which is awesome)
This is like mainline writing—hook-up, ride out the creativity high, and return to the waking world as a disjoined husk of a human, slowly, through nutrition and regular life habits, returning to normal working order.
But, what you get from this process is a manuscript written with complete immersion. Kazuo Ishiguro quite literally dedicated his life to drafting of the novel. Is it any wonder than many consider it his magnum opus? As writers, we should give this a good long thought.
This is the level of dedicated sowing that will produce the sweetest reaping. Living disconnected from your writing will leave your readers disconnected from the story.
So, if you’re to ask me, “what should I do to become a better writer?”
I don’t think I need to answer that question. Go and read Kazuo Ishiguro, and soon enough you’ll realize that he’s earned the Nobel Prize, and does it a great honor to be its current laureate.
* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/06/kazuo-ishiguro-the-remains-of-the-day-guardian-book-club (This article is fantastic and insightful for anyone who’s interested in the writing process.)