Writer 1, Actor 0

I have to share this just because it made me snicker. 🙂

In the current issue of Smithsonian, July 2009, there’s an article called “Nikita in Hollywood” about Nikita Kruschev’s visit to the US in 1959. I wasn’t born then so I’d heard only vague mentions of the event, and found the article interesting and entertaining both. Very historical as well as readable, good photos, etc.

There’s one bit, though, describing a conversation at the banquet held in Hollywood for Kruschev and his party, along with as many Hollywood notables as could be shoehorned into the banquet room. The visitors were scattered among the tables, spreading the wealth, so everyone got a chance to talk to a couple of famous actors or directors or whatever. One conversational snippet:

As the waiters delivered lunch — squab, wild rice, Parisian potatoes and peas with pearl onions — Charlton Heston, who’d once played Moses, attempted to make small talk with Mikhail Sholokhov, the Soviet novelist who would win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965. “I have read excerpts from your works,” Heston said.

“Thank you,” Sholokhov replied. “When we get some of your films, I shall not fail to watch some excerpts from them.”

I had to laugh, and give Sholokhov a fist-pump for that. I mean, it’s clear Heston was trying to make polite conversation, so he gets a brownie point for good intentions, but seriously, would he have been flattered if someone said they’d watched his movies’ trailers but not the movies themselves?

The primary reason for excerpts to be circulated, and certainly the only reason I can think of why they’d be put in the way of someone who’s a reader but not in the business nor an academic, is as promo. You read the excerpt and then if you like it you read the entire work it was taken from. Telling a writer you’ve read excerpts is essentially saying that you weren’t interested enough or impressed enough with said excerpts to actually read the books. That’s not any kind of a compliment, and as someone who works in an analogous business, one might’ve expected Heston to twig to that.

Great come-back from Sholokhov, though. 😀


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.

2 thoughts on “Writer 1, Actor 0”

  1. reading excerpts – something i do 60-70 times a week – it’s something i always do before buying a book. it in no way disrespects the authors because i read a book a day. i read an article about the reading habits of americans last week and it said most only read 5-7 books a year. they must not have had any erotica fans in the survey. made me sad that so many people are missing out on so many great reads available.

  2. Ellen — no, there’s nothing wrong with reading excerpts — I do it too. I don’t have time to read all the books I know I want to read, so reading an excerpt of something I only might want to read makes sense. But I’d never walk up to a writer and say, “I’ve read excerpts fromyour books.” Because seriously, what does that say? That after reading the excerpts you had no wish to read the books themselves, basically.

    “I read an excerpt of your novel in a magazine and had to run out and get it!” is great. “I read an excerpt from your series online and I put the first book on my wish list,” is great too. The difference is that the excerpt motivated you to want to read the story itself, even if you haven’t done it yet.

    It’s not reading the excerpts that’s at all disrespectful; I absolutely agree with you there. I put excerpts of my stories up whenever one is published, and post them to various blogs and mailing lists and forums as appropriate, and I have some fairly extensive excerpts up on the new GLBT Bookshelf Wiki. I definitely hope people in each place read them. 🙂

    What’s disrespectful, or at least impolite or awkward in a social situation, is saying to the author, “Yeah, I read some of your excerpts and thought they were kinda meh. Sorry, no sale.” There’s no reason to say or imply that; it’s more polite just to talk about something else.

    It’s different if you’re posting reviews (although reviewing excerpts would be kind of creative, heh) where you’re talking primarily to other readers. Most writers do read their reviews and cherish the good ones and agonize over the bad ones, but reviews are mainly for readers, to help them sort out the stuff they do and don’t want to try. To do that job effectively, reviews need to talk about what doesn’t work as well as what does; that’s not impolite because the context is business rather than social.

    Same if you’re giving the writer a critique, assuming you’re in a context where that’s appropriate (a banquet probably isn’t [cough]) and the writer wants to hear that kind of feedback from you. Personally I love thoughtful, detailed critiques of my fiction, and if something doesn’t work for a reader I’d like to know about it, what it was and why. I’d just as soon not be cornered at a party by someone for that purpose, though. E-mail would be awesome.

    Does that make sense, though? It’s not that Heston had read excerpts that I have a problem with. It’s that the excerpts didn’t motivate him to read any of Sholokhov’s novels, but he mentioned it to the writer anyway. That was uncool, even if Heston didn’t realize it at the time.

    And I still love Sholokhov’s response. 😀


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