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A Conversation Between Generations

We’re all in this together, one book answering another,” E.L. Doctorow said in his acceptance speech on Tuesday night at the PEN American Literary Awards, his words echoing in the hall and in this writer’s heart. Doctorow is 81-years-old and frail. Like several other authors that night, he had trouble getting up the stairs to the stage. But his voice is still strong, both in person and on the page. Most striking is his humility: one book answering another, an eloquent and sustaining phrase for every other writer in the audience and beyond, whether wildly successful or still striving every day to write something worthwhile and get published. It’s a striking contrast to the solipsism of Salman Rushdie’s memoir, "Joseph Anton," which I recently finished. Without question, Rushdie’s ordeal was horrendous and his determination to continue living his life and to continue writing, heroic and memorable, but he doesn’t have much to say to other writers, especially young writers. Perhaps that effort would have been a detour away from the armature of the book, I’m not sure; it is an important document. But when he encounters Arundhati Roy at a gathering, he has nothing complimentary to say about her Booker-winning masterpiece, “The God of Small Things.” It was a bristly encounter. Did Roy feel patronized rather than encouraged? I have no idea what that encounter was really about—what Indian sub-continent sub-scripts were written therein, what barbs were being thrown—but I can’t imagine Doctorow not taking the young woman writer in his warm, more experienced writer’s embrace.
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