A new co-worker found out that I am a writer in my spare time. We had a discussion about my writing and at one point she asked me who some of my favorite authors were. And I was flummoxed by the question because the reality is that I don’t have any favorite authors anymore. I only have favorite books.
Over the years, I have become convinced that the vast majority of artistic, creative people only have so much artistry and creativity within them. I’ll provide you with two examples of this. Regular readers of my blog can probably guess which writer I’ll now discuss. Go ahead. Say it with me. Stephen King.
For a period of time, he wrote masterful and unique stories. There is no doubt that he had a talent for gripping story telling. The Shining. Pet Sematary. The Stand. And a few other novels back then. Some incredible short stories. But at some point, he lost that talent. For far too long, he has been writing the same story over and over and over again. It’s a shame. Seriously, how many more stories can he write in which the cast of characters is essentially the same and the whole point is a battle of innocent good versus some type of supernatural, unexplainable evil?
On the musical end for me it is the rock group Rush. In high school and college, Rush was my favorite group. It helped that it was that period of time when they were at the top of their game. (So, yes, a side bar here is necessary. I understand that there are many people reading this who don’t even know who Rush is and many of those who do are laughing their heads off at the idea that Rush were ever at the top of any game. But I can’t help you if you’re in that camp. I simply cannot. All I know is that this was the closest thing to musical perfection to me back then.
I challenge you to listen to that song the right way — in your car with the volume fully cranked — and not understand this. Okay, end of side bar.)
Back then, Rush released a handful of albums — 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures, and one or two others — that were just soooooooooo incredible. More than 30 years later, I can still listen to those albums and be mesmerized by their sound. And then, they became the Stephen King of the music industry. Album after album for more than 20 years has sounded pretty much like the last album.
Stephen King and Rush are the best examples of this end of creativity conundrum, primarily because they both have such a large catalog of work that shows the effect. But, there are plenty of others. You could probably name a few yourself.
Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. The Kite Runner knocked my socks off and I begged for more. A Thousand Splendid Suns came out a few years later and it satisfied my craving. And a few years later, And the Mountains Echoed appeared on bookshelves. Here’s what I can tell you. Big picture — The Kite Runner is lifetime spanning epic about a child growing up in pre-war Afghanistan who leaves because of the wars and years later returns to confront a tragedy of his own making that occurred while he was a child. It is a brutal and horrible story and it is absolutely riveting. A Thousand Splendid Suns is about a woman and her marriage and is equally brutal and horrible and riveting. And I couldn’t tell you think about what And the Mountains Echoed was about because when I was done reading it I was so disappointed at the parallels between it and The Kite Runner. I felt like Hosseini had lost his spark with the third book. I don’t know if I’ll read a fourth book, should one be forthcoming.
Today, I’ll add Wally Lamb to the list. His second book, I Know This Much is True, was the first Lamb book I read. Again … socks absolutely knocked off. I craved more. Eventually, I went back to his first novel, She’s Come Undone, and thought it was OK. Then his third novel was published. The Hour I First Believed. What an incredible title. And that’s one thing Lamb has absolutely perfected. Titles that call to me. But, when I was done reading it … eh, not so much. So, fast forward a few more years.
In 2013, Lamb published We Are Water. Whenever I would go to Amazon and peruse for a book to read, I’d see the book and consider it and then decline to make the purchase. But somewhere in the recent past, I did buy the book for my Kindle. I started reading it only to get a few pages into it before I was distracted by something else to read.
This week, I’ve returned to it. I started from the beginning and after reading for a couple of days, it is so monumentally blah, it’s ridiculous. So ponderous, so wrapped up in the internal thoughts of un-engaging characters, just so … so … well, I think I’m done with it.
I wonder about this though. Is there a limit to our individual creativity? Is there only so much imagination we have? Only so much art we can produce? What do you think?