Michener, James A.: Mexico
(researched by Julie Miller)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
James A. Michener. Mexico. New York: Random House, 1992. Copyright: James A. Michener Parallel First Editions: Germany: Mexico. Berlin: Bestei Lubbe, 1994. Portugal: Mexico. Portugal: Bertrand Editora, 1992. Finland: Mexico. Tryckt i Finland: Bra Bocker, 1992. Spain: Mexico. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1994. France: Mexico. Paris: Presses de la cite, 1993. Englad: Mexico. London: Mandarin, 1993. Sources: inspection of First Edition; WorldCat
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition was published in trade cloth binding in 1992. A paperback edition was published later in the year in New York by Ballantine publishing. Source: WorldCat
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
321 leaves, pp.[7]vii[1]ix[1]xi-xiii[3]3-625[3] Source: inspection of first edition
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The first edition is introduced on the front flap of the dust cover. Other books by James A. Michener are advertised on the second leaf of the book. The work is dedicated to Conchita Cintron. The Author's Note is found on page ix. A summary of the author is found on the back flap of the dust cover. source: inspection of first edition
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are color maps glued to the inside of the binding in both the front and back of the book. A color map faces the inside cover map as well as the back cover map. A black and white illustrated plate faces p. 438. Black and white vignette illustrations are found on the title page as well as each introductory chapter page facing p.2, 25, 63, 87, 129, 155, 190, 231, 260, 292, 333, 371, 392, 410, 424, 476, 531, 553, 580, 602. All maps illustrated by Jean Paul Tremblay. source: inspection of first edition
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The book is in excellent condition. Both the cover and pages have very little wear. There is no discoloration of the pages. The map illustrations are centered with a margin of .75mm. A colophon concerning the type describes the type as Times Roman. It is serif type, and remains consistant throughout the book. Presentation of Text on Page: Wide margins and adequate spacing between lines help to make the book easily readable. Measurement of pages: 15mm x 23mm Measurement of margins: Side, 2.25mm. Top and Bottom, 2mm. Area of text per page: 99.75R
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper used throughout the book is thick, cream-colored, and of good quality. The maps around the binding are printed on even thicker paper that is also smoother than the standard paper used in the rest of the book. There is no tearing or discoloration of the pages, and the edges of the pages have very little wear. source: inspection of first edition
11 Description of binding(s)
The binding consists of dark red trade cloth in the honeygram grain make. Approximately 1.5" from the spine, the cloth is covered by thick, dark yellow paper stamped in gold with the author's initials and the illustration used on the title page and chapter pages. Dust cover design by Carole Lowenstein. The color maps are pasted on the inside bindings on off-white paper. The spine is stamped in gold. Transcription of Front Cover: J.A.M Transcription of Spine: JAMES A.|MICHENER|MEXICO|RANDOM| HOUSE source: inspection of first edition; Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography
12 Transcription of title page
Title Page Inscription: JAMES A.|MICHENER|MEXICO|RANDOM HOUSE|NEW YORK
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The manuscripts were held at the University of Texas until October of 1997 when Michener donated $500,000 to the University of North Colorado in order for the library to be able to house his manuscipts and an assortment of his research notes, correspondence, first editions of novels, and three complete but unpublished manuscripts. source:Denver Rocky Mountain News; October 5, 1997
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
front map illustration marked in pencil with 6.50; written by a bookstore to indicate new price
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Yes, the original publisher, Random House, also printed the book in a Large Print edition the same year the First Edition was released. New York: Random House Large Print, c1992. 1199p. (large print): ill.; 24cm. Sources: Library of Congress Online Catalog; Worldcat
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
not yet known Sources: Publisher's Weekly volumes 238,240,241
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Editions from other publishers include: Mexico published by Fawcett Crest Books, 1992. Mexico published by Secker and Warburg, 1992. Mexico published by Ballantine, 1994. Mexico published by i.b.d., Limited, 1998. Sources: WorldCat; Books in Print With Book Reviews database; Bibliofind
6 Last date in print?
The most recent printing of Mexico was published by i.b.d., Limited in 1998 and currently has an "active record" Sources: Books in Print With Book Reviews database
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
The Mass Market Paperback edition published by Ballantine in 1994 sold 24,765 copies solely through the Amazon.com website as of October, 1999. Mexico remained a bestseller for 13 weeks. Its last week on the bestseller list was Feb. 1, 1993. Sources: Amazon.com; Publisher's Weekly vol. 240
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
unknown
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
A black and white add was placed in Publisher's Weekly in the month of September to announce to simultaneous releases of Michener's Mexico in hardback and also on audio cassettes. The December 20 issue of The New York Times featured a full-page add for the Book-of-the-Month Club with a large picture of Michener's Mexico at the top. Sources:Pulblisher's Weekly; The New York Times
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
There are two recordings of Mexico on audio tapes: Alexander Adams, narrator, Mexico, special library edition, Books on Tape, Inc., 1992. Alexander Adams, narrator, Mexico, special library edition, Books on Tape, Inc., 1993. Sources: FirstSearch database; WorldCat; Amazon.com database
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
There have been many translations of Michener's Mexico. Mexico. London: Mandarin, 1993. Mexique: roman. Paris: Presses de la cite, 1993. French translated by Jacques Guiod Mexico roman. Berlin: Bastei Lubbe, 1994. German (no translator given) Mexico. Portugal: Bertrand Editora, 1993. Portuguese (no translator given) Mexico. Tryckt i Finland: Bra Bocker, 1995. (no translator given) Mexico. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1994. Spanish translated by Jose Sanchez Sources: WorldCat
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
N/A
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
There are no sequels or prequels to Michener's Mexico. However, Michener enticed his readers to read this book and several of his others by giving them titles that seem to be related to each other. In 1992, the same year that Mexico was published, Michener released a novel called My Lost Mexico that describes the making of his novel, Mexico. Other Related Works: Hawaii(1959) Poland(1983) Texas(1985) Alaska(1988) Caribbean(1989) Sources: Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 60; Amazon.com
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
James A. Michener lived what most would consider a long and prosperous life. He died at the age of ninety, and during those years experienced more than most ever dream about. Michener is best known for the forty-three books he completed in his lifetime. One of them,Tales of the South Pacific, received the Pulitzer Prize, and many others became bestsellers throughout the world. Although Michener was a prolific writer, one should understand that in no way could he be charged with rushing through his works. He was known as a historical novelist because "with every novel that Michener produced, there was extensive research involved in amassing the necessary facts to make the fictional story as accurate as possible and additional delays in the actual writing process from other projects or obligations that intervened" (bookreporter.com). Michener's novel Mexico is the best example of this. Although the novel was started in 1961, it was not completed until 1992. Therefore, a study the life of Michener during the years in which he wrote this novel is quite extensive. In order to understand Michener's love of adventure, it is important to go back to his youth. He was an orphan, and although the loving Mabel Michener adopted him, he never knew his real parents or even where he was born. Michener had no true roots and was able to throw his thumb in the wind, go anywhere, and learn from many people. Mexico is somewhat autobiographical in a sense. It tells the story of a journalist who goes to Mexico to study part of its culture, and in the process learns the story of his Mexican ancestors. There were many things that happened between 1961 and 1992 that helped Michener complete Mexico. He became involved in politics and for that received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also moved constantly. His move to Austin, Texas in 1980 brought him closer to Mexico and the culture that he wrote about in his novel Mexico. Although Mexico was a bestseller, it is not considered to be one of Michener's best works. No media performances were made for it, and it does not stand out as a highlight in his career. Michener was always popular, yet never found the approval of literary critics after his initial success with Tales of the South Pacific. In a NPR broadcast, the host, Daniel Zwerdling described Michener's works as being "assiduously researched, doggedly earnest, stupendously long, and unimaginably dull." He later said, "It's not well-understood by literary people that popular writers find their vast readerships because they believe in what they write. Americans love bad writing and hate insincerity. James Michener believed all the moralistic sermons his novels preached and believed in the redemptive powers of education." While Mexico is not a shining star in Michener's career, it does mark a time in his life of great closure, which is important to note. In finishing this work, he completed a thirty-year project. Also, the same year this book was released, Michener put out his personal autobiography, The World is My Home: A Memoir. When he died, he was featured in Fortune magazine not for his wealth, but for the amount of wealth he had given away which totaled over $117 million. When asked if he would ever want the money back, "he said sure, so that he could have the pleasure of giving it again" (Minneapolis Star Tribune). During the thirty years in which Michener sporadically worked on Mexico, it is obvious that he had many more things going on. As he traveled about and wrote books about different cultures, he was also giving back to the places that allowed him to become close to them.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Michener's novel Mexico, while widely read by the public has never been considered to be an exceptional Michener work by the critics. Most critics regard Michener's Hawaii and Tales from the South Pacific to be his greatest two works. Mexico, like the other two works, is noted for its in-depth observations of the people and culture in which the story is set. Critics agree that Michener put a great deal of effort into presenting an accurate account of the 1960's Mexico. However, while he is praised for his diligence in researching the Mexican culture, reviewers of the work felt that the novel did not flow smoothly. Mexico is not regarded as a poor novel. However, it is not seen as one of Michener's best. Reviews of the novel found Mexico to be a good story about pieces of the Mexican culture, but the overall storyline of the work did not please Michener's critics. Excerpts from Reviews of Mexico: In response to Michener's release of both Mexico and My Lost Mexico(Michener's own account of the writing of Mexico) within months of each other, Clifford Irving of The New York Times said "It may be unique for a writer to publish an epic novel and, in the same season, a separate book-length guide to that novel's genesis, development, abandonment and resurrection 30 years later. But that is what James A. Michener has done. The novel is Mexico and the commentary is My Lost Mexico, and the two together will form a rewarding experience for fans of the "tough old bird," which is how the author describes himself at the age of 85." On a negative note, the reviewer states that Mexico , the novel, bumps along on two tracks. One is the chronicle of two toreros battling for supremacy and survival during a three-day fiesta in a small Mexican mining city?The other track takes the reader on a disorganized historical ramble?Unfortunately, all but one of the long sections about Clay's(the antagonist) Indian, Spanish and American ancestors are awkward historical parentheses in the main story?At the end, author and narrator labor valiantly to wrap all the parts together, but it's like trying to truss boulders with twine." Later in the article Clifford comments that "There are splendid and authentic scenes in the plaza de toros that are as dramatic as any written by Ernest Hemingway or Barnaaby Conrad, and one chapter, where the bulls' horns are shaved by the father of a torero, is James Michener the storyteller and parabolist at his finest." Clifford concludes by giving his opinion that "the best material in the novel, by far, has been written recently, when the author was eightysomething, distanced from his subject, cherishing it but probably no longer in love with it. That in itself is a lesson to cherish. The tough old bird is no has-been. "David Clark Scott of The Christian Science Monitor also heralded Michener's ability to observe the Mexican culture. "Michener establishes the means to explore the primary historical and cultural influences-in the scope and detail of Michener classics-that converge to create Mexico today. Although set in 1961, when Michener researched the novel, time has spun no cobwebs on the observations." Charles Michaud of The Library Journal noted Michener's noble attempt to intertwine several generations in the novel. "?not the usual dutiful slog through generations but a more carefully constructed interweaving of present and past, and one of Michener's finest efforts." Michaud's overall impression of the work seems to stress his belief that Mexico is merely a good attempt at another sucessful novel. "Michener began this novel 30 years ago, put it aside, and until recently left it unfinished. Perhaps that is why it is less formulaic than most of his mammoth excursions into the history of particular localities." A Typical Review (taken from The Christian Science Monitor by David Clark Scott) "Although set in 1961, when Michener researched the novel, time has spun no cobwebs on the observations. Michener acknowledges that most bullfights are disgraceful?But he also examines cultural biases against bullfighting and explains why aficionados consider it not a sport but a Spanish art form. At its finest, Michener says, ?for twelve minutes out there on the sand you will see something that occurs nowhere else on this earth, the perfect duel between life and death?You will see men on their toes daintily throwing their lives upon the horns, and at the end you will watch a man with a frail piece of cloth play a bull to death. People will scream with insanity from the tension. Horses far from the scene will neigh, and when it is over you will sit limp as death yourself.' Mexico is uneven. Every three of four chapters, there's an often plodding historical digression that delves into the narrator's Indian or Spanish or United States ancestry. Credibilty is constantly stretched in these chapters. How come this magazine hack has so many royal junctures or socially elite ancestors who just happen to have been involved in many of the most critical junctures of Mexican history?"
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Michener's novel Mexico, while widely read by the public has never been considered to be an exceptional Michener work by the critics. Most critics regard Michener's Hawaii and Tales from the South Pacific to be his greatest two works. Mexico, like the other two works, is noted for its in-depth observations of the people and culture in which the story is set. Critics agree that Michener put a great deal of effort into presenting an accurate account of the 1960's Mexico. However, while he is praised for his diligence in researching the Mexican culture, reviewers of the work felt that the novel did not flow smoothly. Mexico is not regarded as a poor novel. However, it is not seen as one of Michener's best. Reviews of the novel found Mexico to be a good story about pieces of the Mexican culture, but the overall storyline of the work did not please Michener's critics. Excerpts from Reviews of Mexico: In response to Michener's release of both Mexico and My Lost Mexico(Michener's own account of the writing of Mexico) within months of each other, Clifford Irving of The New York Times said "It may be unique for a writer to publish an epic novel and, in the same season, a separate book-length guide to that novel's genesis, development, abandonment and resurrection 30 years later. But that is what James A. Michener has done. The novel is Mexico and the commentary is My Lost Mexico, and the two together will form a rewarding experience for fans of the "tough old bird," which is how the author describes himself at the age of 85." On a negative note, the reviewer states that Mexico , the novel, bumps along on two tracks. One is the chronicle of two toreros battling for supremacy and survival during a three-day fiesta in a small Mexican mining city?The other track takes the reader on a disorganized historical ramble?Unfortunately, all but one of the long sections about Clay's(the antagonist) Indian, Spanish and American ancestors are awkward historical parentheses in the main story?At the end, author and narrator labor valiantly to wrap all the parts together, but it's like trying to truss boulders with twine." Later in the article Clifford comments that "There are splendid and authentic scenes in the plaza de toros that are as dramatic as any written by Ernest Hemingway or Barnaaby Conrad, and one chapter, where the bulls' horns are shaved by the father of a torero, is James Michener the storyteller and parabolist at his finest." Clifford concludes by giving his opinion that "the best material in the novel, by far, has been written recently, when the author was eightysomething, distanced from his subject, cherishing it but probably no longer in love with it. That in itself is a lesson to cherish. The tough old bird is no has-been. "David Clark Scott of The Christian Science Monitor also heralded Michener's ability to observe the Mexican culture. "Michener establishes the means to explore the primary historical and cultural influences-in the scope and detail of Michener classics-that converge to create Mexico today. Although set in 1961, when Michener researched the novel, time has spun no cobwebs on the observations." Charles Michaud of The Library Journal noted Michener's noble attempt to intertwine several generations in the novel. "?not the usual dutiful slog through generations but a more carefully constructed interweaving of present and past, and one of Michener's finest efforts." Michaud's overall impression of the work seems to stress his belief that Mexico is merely a good attempt at another sucessful novel. "Michener began this novel 30 years ago, put it aside, and until recently left it unfinished. Perhaps that is why it is less formulaic than most of his mammoth excursions into the history of particular localities." A Typical Review (taken from The Christian Science Monitor by David Clark Scott) "Although set in 1961, when Michener researched the novel, time has spun no cobwebs on the observations. Michener acknowledges that most bullfights are disgraceful?But he also examines cultural biases against bullfighting and explains why aficionados consider it not a sport but a Spanish art form. At its finest, Michener says, ?for twelve minutes out there on the sand you will see something that occurs nowhere else on this earth, the perfect duel between life and death?You will see men on their toes daintily throwing their lives upon the horns, and at the end you will watch a man with a frail piece of cloth play a bull to death. People will scream with insanity from the tension. Horses far from the scene will neigh, and when it is over you will sit limp as death yourself.' Mexico is uneven. Every three of four chapters, there's an often plodding historical digression that delves into the narrator's Indian or Spanish or United States ancestry. Credibilty is constantly stretched in these chapters. How come this magazine hack has so many royal junctures or socially elite ancestors who just happen to have been involved in many of the most critical junctures of Mexican history?"
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
James A. Michener's novel Mexico, published in 1992 by Random House, was a best-selling novel for him. It remained on the Bestseller List for thirteen weeks, was translated into several languages, and was still being published in 1998. Judging by the success of the novel, it would seem that Mexico is considered to be one of Michener's finer works. This, however, is not the case. In fact, Mexico is far from being one of Michener's greatest works. Although the novel sold many copies, reviews of it were mediocre and sometimes rather critical. After its initial release, Mexico received very little publicity even from the publisher. Mexico is a perfect example of a best-selling novel that was quickly forgotten because the things that made it a hit did not necessarily make it an enduring book. There is a great deal that goes into making a novel a hit. When one carefully examines the time and conditions under which Mexico was released, and more importantly the style that it was written in, it is apparent why it was a best-selling novel of 1992 that ultimately fell short of any kind of greatness or stature in comparison to Michener's other works. The primary reason that Mexico immediately flew onto the Bestseller List in December of 1992 is because of the great anticipation that surrounded the release of the novel. Michener was in his eighties at the time, and was a familiar and established name among the public. He had published over eighteen novels at the time along with numerous short stories and essays. After receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for his 1947 novel Tales of the South Pacific and enjoying the tremendous success of his 1959 novel Hawaii, Michener had credibility. Thus, his fans were willing and eager to read his latest work, and many copies of Mexico were sold. There was also something quite unique about the novel that intrigued the public. It became known that Michener had been working sporadically on the novel for over thirty years, had lost the documents for a while, and had only recently found them and completed the work. In an interview by Lawrence Grobel, Grobel asked how this had happened. Michener replied, "That this manuscript should have been totally lost for thirty-one years and then to have surfaced with all the notes, three big notebooks, ten finished chapters--it's incredible. In my mind, I had mailed it. But they never picked it up. What I'd forgotten was that Random House had a contract for the book. So from time to time they would say, 'Gee, let's get that book on Mexico, you had two-thirds done.' But it was lost. When we wanted to do the memoir, there was a keen desire to have some photographs. My cousin, who lived with us, was always wondering where the photographs were. She finally found the photographs in the back of a filing cabinet. And when she did she also found behind the cabinet the lost manuscript about Mexico." The simple fact that the work was written under such unusual conditions brought attention to it, and naturally helped to sell the story (New York Times). The timing of the release of the novel also was to its advantage. Its December release made it a prime candidate for a holiday gift. Furthermore, Michener released a biographical novel around the same time that Mexico was released that told the story of how the novel was written and the aspects of Michener's life relevant to writing the novel's composition. Michener explained how he originally chose his subjects and why the novel was put on hold for over thirty years. These lines, taken from My Lost Mexico, express this. "I believe what I tell my listeners, yet here I'm confessing that in Mexico I suffered a block for thirty years, 1961-1991...Writer's block? I've suffered colossal ones, but I no longer surrender to the minor ones lasting a few days or weeks which seem to terrify many writers. Those I exorcize by turning to other work, and I recommend this tactic to others" (102). The simultaneous release of the two works hightened the public interest in the two. The above circumstances are not the sole reasons that Mexico became a bestseller. There are qualities about the novel that reviewers and the general public praised. As was the case with almost all of Michener's works, the extensive research that went into the novel was greatly admired. Nicholas Lemann stated that a typical work of Michener's was "a sweeping panorama of regional history done in the form of a novel" (Contemporary Literary Criticism 255). Mexico was no exception to this. A book review on Amazon.com reports that "With remarkable skill author James Michener brings to life 1,500 years of Mexican history through the character of an American journalist who is sent south of the border. The text, like the history of this great nation, is full of blood and gore." The strength of the novel lies in the descriptions that Michener was able to communicate to his readers. He was inspired to write the novel, and was able to create a vivid scene for his readers, especially when he wrote of the great bullfights that still occur in Mexico. In his interview with Grobel, he said that Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises originally inspired him to learn more bullfighting. After seeing several matches and participating in the "Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona, Michener was ready to put his experiences down on paper. "Writers are people with instantaneous reactions to dramatic situations, and in my case my first incandescent reactions often enlighten the entire experience. I see the bullfight as an exemplification of dark, mysterious power operating against the dancing pirouetting man, the bull in his primal dark coat, the man in his extravagant suit of lights. This imagery has been so potent for me that my novel Mexico is a retelling of that experience" (20). Michener's ability to richly describe another land and its culture to the average reader helped to make Mexico a bestseller. After all, the support of the general public is what ultimately makes a book a success. The average "customer review" from the "Customer Comments" section of the Amazon.com web site gave Mexico four stars out of a possible five. One reader describes Mexico as a "very good book that mixes history with a personal story." Another reader from Germany said that it is "definitely one of Michener's two best books." A mixed review said "it got kinda slow at some parts but after you survive them the book becomes real exciting." One final response from a reader from Vienna is closer to what the critics said about the novel. "It's one of the most pathetic books. I managed to fight it until page eighty or so until sleep and anger overcame me. The author isn't capable of concentrating on his (should be, if any) subject and instead lets the central ?character' try to entertain the bored reader with the fame and glory of the character's family every tiring second paragraph." What exactly happened to Michener's work that led some readers and most literary critics of Michener's Mexico to criticize it? Like most other Michener novels, it is by no means a short read, and it can not be said that Michener rushed through its completion. However, the fact that Michener worked on the novel for short periods at a time during a thirty-year span indicates that the novel never received the full and undivided attention of its author. An article in the New York Times by Clifford Irving depicts this. "In 1959, after correcting the galleys on his long multigenerational novel ?Hawaii,' Mr. Michener drives to Mexico City with the idea of writing a similar massive novel about Mexico, a country he has come to love. He completes more than half of it, feels a malaise that most writers feel at some stage during the arduous journey toward the completion of a two- to three-pound book, searches in vain for what he calls ?a strong, clear vision of where I wanted to go,' loses forward motion, and in 1961 sends the unfinished manuscript to his publisher, begging for advice on how to continue?the reply from Bennett Cerf, the president of Random House?so devastates the author that he can't continue. He abandons the novel. And then he loses it." In 1990, Michener tried to leave Random House publishing when "managerial affairs fell into temporary disarray and people he respected were ?let go, sometimes in unacceptable ways'"(New York Times). Surprisingly, no other publishing company would publish him because they considered him to be a "has-been." He then returned to Random House. The interesting thing about this event is that it indicates that a negative opinion and stereotype was forming about James Michener and his writing career. His works, although generally considered to be enjoyable and entertaining, were also becoming stale. They were losing the interest of the reader, and by the age of eighty, one wonders if perhaps Michener himself was losing his desire to produce the works any longer. It is as if James Michener had created a recipe that he followed to write a bestseller. Mexico contains almost all of the ingredients that his previous popular works did. He knew that enough adventure, gore, excitement, and colorful description could make any work of his land a temporary spot on the bestseller list. Interestingly enough, Michener himself recognized that he had in a sense developed his own formula for a book. "I do have wonderful respect and love for the old days. I try to figure out what they were like and where did they come from; how did they get their money? what agitated them? what was their drive? what were they after? And I get swept away by the magnitude of the thing. If that is a formula, then I'm stuck with it" (Grobel 42-43). Mexico is not a terrible novel. It just has nothing new about it. It seems to follow the typical style and pattern of Michener that had become redundant by 1992. Mexico could not stand as an individual and unique work. Today, it is not compared to other works by other authors, but rather to previous Michener works that cast it in their shadows, works like Hawaii and Alaska.This truly helps explain why Mexico did not live on after its thirteen weeks of popularity. The novel was like a "cookie-cutter" work. It satisfied the readers for a short time, but it left no lasting impression because there was nothing exceptional about the novel. It covered the basics, and that is all. Although the story is about a great adventure, there is nothing adventurous about the style or the story itself. However, as the history of this work indicates, those are not necessary qualities for a book to become a bestseller. Sometimes, as was the case with Michener's Mexico, the established reputation of an author along with a style that has been proven to appeal to readers is all it takes to get a book to the top. At such a late stage stage in his life, it seems that the overall negative response to Mexico and the many problems he saw in the publishing system would have discouraged Michener from continuing to write for the public. This however was not the case, and Michener continued to work up until his death. After My Lost Mexico was released in 1992, James A. Michener's Writer's Handbook:Explorations in Writing and Publishing was also released. Afterwards, seven other Michener works were published. The last one, titled A Century of Sonnets was published in 1997. Mexico, however, was his last bestseller. While his final works were read by some, they received very little attention. That Michener continued to write until his death and did not relent even after unfavorable reviews were given about Mexico does show the dedication and tenacity of Michener concerning his profession. In Michener's words, "Both ordinary talent and rare genius can be nipped in the bud by criticism. I adopted this rigorous policy in self-defense, for I had learned through three abortive attempts at finishing a novel--this one on Mexico, the one on the siege of Leningrad, and the one on contemporary social relationships, each of which I had to abandon in mid-flight--that I must permit nothing to imperil my forward progress. I had not suffered writer's block; I had experienced writer's annihilation...The protection of one's personal source of power and one's integrity as an individualized spokesman is vital to a writing career. For that reason I do not read criticism of my work after it is published. I cannot profit from favorable reports; the work is already done. And I dare not allow unfavorable reviews to alter my perception of my work or in any way modify what I might want to do in the future...The death of my Mexican novel thus became the birth of the philosophy that has sustained me" (My Lost Mexico, 65-66). This philosphy that Michener held in regard to his profession, the deidication Michener had for completing a work to the best of his ability, and the desire to share his experiences with others are the qualities that Michener possessed that made him capable of writing modern bestsellers. These qualities gave Michener a respected reputation among many readers that helped to sell his works, as was the case with Mexico. Obviously, a novel does not have to be well received by critics to be sucessful. It does not even have to be a great work in the eyes of the general public if it has enough working for it that gets it off the shelves. However, this does not mean that the actual writing of a bestseller is easy and is something that anyone can do. Mexico may not be considered an excellent work of literature, but that does not mean that it was merely thrown together. Modern bestsellers do not have to be deep or have a great deal of substance, but the substance they do contain has to carry weight with the readers. In other words, if a work is to be a bestseller, what goes into it has got to be good. There has to be discipline. Michener was quoted one time for saying, "If writing was easy, everyone would do it. There are many people that I've thought could write something better than I could, but the difference is that I actually do it" (Grobel 87). In his self-written Writer's Handbook, Michener's final advice to prospective writers is "Remember that most successful writers compose their first three manuscripts at four o'clock in the morning prior to a full day's work in some office. If you can't discipline yourself to do that, you'll never be a writer. Of course, it could be just as effectively done after eleven o'clock at night" (180). No matter what the critics thought of Michener and his works, he was an effective writer. His novels became bestsellers because he had people supporting him, he worked diligently and incessantly, and he knew what readers wanted. He was not one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, but he was one of the few who really made a good living at what he did. The secret of a bestseller is best given by those that have written one. As Michener said, "There is a great deal I can't do--I'm not good at humor or psychology, I'm not a stylist--but I can tell a story. If the reader will stay with me for the first hundred pages, which I often make difficult, then he or she will be hooked and want to know what's happening. That's storytelling and I prize it. A writer is prudent if he stays with what he does well and perfects it" (Grobel 41). He later said, "I have turned out to be one of the most widely-read writers of modern times. I haven't had to use violence or wild sex, kookiness or anything else. I've simply laid out a great story and let it fall where it will" (Grobel 96). In the eyes of Michener, his bestsellers were born out of great stories that he had carefully developed. Michener put everything into his works. He gave his all time and time again, and this seems to be his key ingredient for a successful novel. "I held nothing back," he told his friend Lawrence Grobel. "I am not saving anything for a sequel" (xx). That must be Michener's formula for a bestseller.
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