Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Revisiting Reintroduction and Crowdsourcing Consensus

Revisiting Reintroduction: Several more thoughts about how to reintroduce Lafferty’s writing to the world and get his name well known among the reading public: NPR: In a reply to a comment on this blog from not Bridget the other day, I asked a question: How do we ensure that Lafferty is widely recognized as an influential and uniquely creative writer? How do we make him a household name, mentioned with other creators within the genre like Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, and Philip K. Dick? Lafferty was a far better and actually more careful (or at least more intentional with his wild creativity) writer than any of them (and they're the greats). Sturgeon was very well served by the North Atlantic Books series of The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. While these were never cheap, they were massively produced and marketed--getting long articles and commentary on NPR for example. Hey, that's an idea, perhaps Andrew Ferguson and/or the LOCUS people could get NPR to do a Profile on Lafferty as an almost forgotten American Literary Giant. They could talk about his uniquely American voice, blending Irish, Western, and Native tall tale within SF. They could talk about his histories and historical novels, especially Okla Hannali, which is so important to understanding American history. They could have highly successful current authors (Gaiman, Swanwick, Waldrop, etc.) talk about his influence. And they could show how his (far too few) rabid fans launched a whole industry of small press publishers, producing chapbooks and hand-sewn small editions of 30 or 50 pages in limited numbers that are now selling for hundreds of dollars. Most importantly, they could bemoan how the publishing policies of printing only that which resembles current and previous best sellers may well rob us of such an important voice. NYRB: Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow get the New York Review of Books to do a profile on Lafferty? Perhaps they could review the Centipede Press series on or around his centennial. How does one go about planting a seed among the editors and reviewers at the NYRB? Might John Pelan, as the publisher need to contact them? Is there a requirement for number of copies in print (If so, I’m sure a 300-copy edition would be woefully inadequate)? Do they ever review or profile the authors of out-of-print books? Would they ever condescend to look an an author labeled SF, and could they be persuaded to recognise Lafferty’s uniquely American voice regardless of genre? Academia: I believe in the power of a well-infected academia. Lafferty has often been described as a writer’s writer. How do we get literature professors to embrace Lafferty? Bradbury has made it onto “serious” academic syllabi, Philip K. Dick is frequently taught, and I have even seen William Gibson included as an optional author in a Modern Lit class. If Lafferty were more widely assigned, it would give him the patina of “old master” which would cause new editions of his books to be welcomed with accolades and applause. Google: Given the cross-cultural reach of Google, perhaps a Google Doodle on Lafferty’s 100th birthday would have more impact than all the other methods combined. How do we plant a seed, place a bug in the ear, put a bee in the bonnet of those who control and create such things? Crowdsourcing Consensus: Reading Lafferty is an individual experience. Stories that resonate strongly with one person can leave other readers nonplussed. Each reader’s absolute favorite Lafferty stories are uniquely that readers own favorites, and may say as much about the reader as about the stories. In a thread of comments under the post about the upcoming Centipede Press release of The Man Who Made Models over at The Ants of God are Queer Fish, Daniel Peterson admitted that he had been compiling his ideal list of stories for a Best of Lafferty volume in his head for years. This led me to wonder if we all do that, and what do our individual choices of stories, essays, poetry, etc. say about us as readers of Lafferty? Please use the comments section under this entry and post your choices for what should be included in a “Best of Lafferty” collection. Add as much or as little explanation as you like. My personal list can be found a few posts back on this blog here: Thank you!


  1. There already is a best of Lafferty collection. It's called Nine Hundred Grandmothers.

    I exaggerate slightly, of course, but in trying to come up with a best of list, I had nine Nine Hundred Grandmothers stories even WITHOUT including "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne," "Primary Education of the Camiroi," "The Hole in the Corner," "In Our Block," or "Through Other Eyes," all of whose inclusion can be easily argued.

    You could make a fine pass at a best of Lafferty collection just by taking Nine Hundred Grandmothers, removing the title story, Ginny Wrapped in the Sun, Polity and Custom, and Guesting Time, and adding your 4-5 favorites from all other sources combined. Not saying this would be the best possible best of collection, but it would be eminently defensible. And quite excellent.

  2. Of course, Nine Hundred Grandmothers is the seminal Lafferty collection. My point here was to look at the similarities and differences between each of our lists of favorites. Jay, you and I have fairly similar tastes in Lafferty stories, but I know that Daniel Peterson has different tastes than mine--he leans more toward the horror and the religious dystopias. There are some for whom "Snuffles" is THE Lafferty story, and others who are repelled by it. My personal top three (no make that four) favorites (at this moment--it's a moving target) are:
    - "Days of Grass, Days of Straw"
    - "Hole on the Corner"
    - "Narrow Valley"
    - "Slow Tuesday Night"
    - "Been a Long, Long Time"
    (Ok, better make that top five).

    What does that say about me (beyond the fact that I've seen Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch a few too many times)? That I value the surreal above the spiritual? That I identify with alienated characters? I don't really know. What do the similarities and differences between our personal favorites say about the the similarities and differences in our characters?

    Oh, and "Nine Hundred Grandmothers" You can't exclude the title story!

  3. The title story is genuinely one of my bottom three in the collection. I would like to come up with my own best of list, but it might take some time. This was really more a comment in the interim.

    Snuffles is honestly not one of my favorites in the collection (and I honestly might prefer Once on Aranea as far as that theme goes), but I feel like Snuffles still belongs in a best of collection, even if I don't value it as highly as some. I still like it quite a bit.

    My top five Lafferty stories are probably Land of the Great Horses, What's the Name of That Town, Hog-Belly Honey, Frog on the Mountain, Days of Grass, Days of Straw, and The Transcendent Tigers. Okay, that was six. But I do really love the rest of your top five. It's just I love so much of Lafferty.

  4. As to collections, Strange Doings is nearly as strong a collection as 900 Grandmothers, and Does Anyone Else... isn't far behind. Anyway, moot point as a big fat Best Of is in the works, hoping details will start coming out in the later part of this year.

    When that happens, it'll be the best chance to get the sort of NPR publicity you're thinking of, Kevin—and that could actually happen, given Gaiman and Locus's connections to the publishing world. I know Michael Dirda is a fan, and he'd be a good one to do a hefty profile and career overview for NYRB/NYT/Wash Post; I'd also hope to see a big piece in what is fairly clearly the best review section right now, the LARB.

    Google doodle is a great idea but that requires someone in Google working on that as their own side project. Regardless, I just don't think he has the profile even of the "lesser" figures that grace their front page, not yet anyway. The good news here is that they're not totally dependent on round numbers for their anniversaries, often they seem to use "odd" numbers to commemorate. Maybe next year?

    As for academia—it's tricky because his work gets a great reception to crowds of other academics, but it's really hard to introduce to a class without laying down a huge amount of prepatory material first. The best bet to get him ensconced as an Old Master of American Literature is Okla Hannali (or eventually Esteban) since those fit easily into the sort of large-scale class narratives that don't require genre-specific courses.

    1. Personally, I'd put Strange Doings, Does Anyone Else, and Iron Tears all running nearly neck-and-neck for second. All exemplary collections. That I think Nine Hundred Grandmothers is the head-and-shoulders winner says much more about my feelings on Nine Hundred Grandmothers than it does my feelings on the other three.