When I first picked up a Pearl Buck book, it was The Good Earth. I was a teen and on a personal “read the classics” mission one summer. I read the description and didn’t think I’d like it. Oh, but then I found out that when a good writer puts words on paper, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. It draws you in.
I had this same response when I read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I learned something from these two writers: clean, simple writing can be beautiful and poetic.
Buck, especially, has been criticized by having “too simple” of a writing style. Some argued that she wasn’t worthy of the Nobel Prize she received in 1938, but I think this kind of snobbery is the worst thing we can do to each other as writers.
The ability to reach a variety of people with your writing is a gift. There are some who read The Good Earth, for example, and enjoyed learning about the characters and the Chinese culture. Others saw symbolism in characters like the poor fool, and still others were drawn into the story itself.
Does it matter why people liked the book? Do we need to argue about the worthiness of a writer’s work once it becomes popular?
Besides the fact that Buck wrote an extremely popular book and won a prestigious prize for it, there’s another reason I admire her. She was prolific. She didn’t sit around talking about writing. She wrote. Over 100 books, in fact, 43 of them novels.
This was before computers and word processors. In fact, she wrote out everything by hand, right to the end of her life. Her son said, “She knew she was dying. But she sat down with a pen and wrote out over 300 pages. Just an amazing tour de force."Her final book, The Eternal Wonder, was found years after her death and has quite an interesting story that goes along with it. I’ll review that in my next post.