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Shaped At An Early Age

September 17, 2012

In a column last week, Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune asked readers to name a book that “shaped” them.  I tweeted: “The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions” by Mario Puzo.

I read it when I was a 19-year-old college sophomore, and it really did “shape” me as a writer, in the sense that I learned for the first the time what a struggle it is to become successful. I knew Puzo had written “The Godfather” but not two earlier books, “The Dark Arena” and “The Fortunate Pilgrim.”  Both books received tremendously good reviews–and promptly sank. As Puzo readily admitted, he decided to write “The Godfather” to make money.

Puzo’s diary in “The Godfather Papers” details how he struggled to be an “artist” with his writing and how his art was rejected by readers. He was 45 years old, $20,000 or more in debt, and yet he continued to believe in himself and keep writing. The loneliness of sitting down to write every day, the self-doubt, the despair; it’s heartbreaking to read, and oddly comforting for a writer who’s experienced the same thing. It helps to know you’re not alone.

In the sections dealing with “The Godfather” novel and the movie, Puzo writes how he was never surprised or offended when someone tried to cheat or double-cross him. That’s the way the world works, he basically says, so get used to it. I never forgot that.

Whatever you think of Puzo’s novels, “The Godfather Papers” is an inspiring book for writers. And everyone should read the two earlier novels.

 

 

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