When I think about music, I often do mental calculations about how old I will be when someone dies. It’s a way of preparing myself. Clapton is in his 60s. 10-20 years, and who knows if he’ll be playing at the end. Richard Thompson and Bruce Springsteen get a few more years. There are always the tragedies–music is famous for tragedies. Still, I also have a stable of artists who are reasonably close to my age and whom, barring self-destruction on their parts, I should be able to follow until I’m very old.
It’s not so easy with writers. Part of that is my age. I’m 32. For a musician, this is practically decrepit. For a writer, however, it’s not even middle-aged.
Most writers, for whatever reason, are slow to put something out. To choose among some of my favorites: at my age, Colum McCann and Ann Patchett had two books apiece published. Michael Chabon had three. Barbara Kingsolver was still a year away from her first publication.
So, you might say writers in the neighborhood of 30 are just graduating. They’re the plucky college graduates eager to make a mark in the world. And they’re hard to spot.
Among people I’ve read who are within five years of my age, I can think of only three. Téa Obreht, Joshua Ferris, and Chad Harbach are the only ones who I can guarantee I’ll be lining up for when the next novel comes out. Obreht is, of course, extremely young and had her Orange Prize-winning book The Tiger’s Wife published at 25. Ferris is ten years her senior and didn’t publish his first book, Then We Came to the End, until he was 33. Harbach, well, I don’t know why he didn’t win any awards for The Art of Fielding, but that excellent novel was published when he was 34.
So there you have it. It’s a pretty short list. I’m excited to see what all of these people have coming. I’m also excited to see who I’m missing. Who is there right now, more or less my age, and writing something really wonderful? It might take a few more years, but I’ll find out.
What about you?