“After I finished [The Age of Shiva], I showed it to people, and my god. They had these opinions. If I’d had that kind of advice while writing the book, it would have completely derailed me. That’s something for writers to be cautious about: getting well-meaning advice. You’ve got to have seven or eight people, but even that’s way too much. So I’m very suspicious about advice. I used to be in several writing groups. It was very helpful with short stories. But then I started The Death of Vishnu, and I remember someone really ripping into the first chapter, saying, you know, rearrange it, take apart everything, and then explain where you are, why you’re there, and do all this explanation. I didn’t follow any of it, as it turned out.” —Manil Suri, interviewed in Baltimore City Paper
Gawker’s science-fiction blog, io9, has a chart-based study of sci-fi trends in mainstream literary novels. Charlie Jane Anders proposes three types of novels—“alternate history,” “time warp,” and “post-apocalyptic”—which means The Road, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, The Plot Against America, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and more are all fair game for discussion. I don’t think that the resulting chart really argues for a one-to-one relationship between current events and related fiction, but it’s an interesting idea to put out there. It’s certainly true that we got a lot of novels about broken-down Latin American countries in 2007 (Lost City Radio, A Far Country, and The Ministry of Special Cases, to name three), and those books certainly felt like responses to the United States’ political predicaments; add a category for “dystopia” and you may have something here. Anyway, Anders writes:
And then was a boom in post-apocalyptic fiction in more recent years, with three huge classics of the genre hitting in 2006. In particular, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has become the poster-child for the literary-authors-going-speculative trend. These books coincided with the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and a worsening Iraq conflict. But there’s been a lull in the post-apocalyptic genre since then as well.
“The scariest thing about our profession is at the end of it, in 20 years, what will you know? You’ll know how to service your own talent. That’s it. And even that will be unstable. You’ll learn to juggle, on ice-skates, on a sheet of ice, on a cruise ship that’s either sinking or on dry land.” —George Saunders, speaking last Thursday to a group of creative-writing MFAs at Columbia University
Last week the Contra Costa Times (the paper of record for East Bay, California, suburbia) hosted a roundtable of authors, including Sue Miller, Vendela Vida, Beth Lisick, and Andre Aciman. Nice panel, but I confess that I winced when I read that the moderator, Lynn Carey, asked them, “Which literary character would you like to date?” Then I cringed when I learned that Carey’s choice is John Galt. So I’d love to know what tone of voice Miller used to respond by saying that she doesn’t like dating, but it seems like she was game to bat away the “doyen of domesticity” tag: ” “I don’t complain, as my grandmother used to say when she finished complaining.”
Richard Ford has had enough of this place: He’s taking a job teaching creative writing at Ireland’s Trinity College.
Connor Simons, an eighth grader living in Clark County, Washington, decided to protest the state standardized test by pulling out a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at his desk while the test was being administered. Simons’ review: “I’ve heard it’s supposed to be the great American novel, but it seems overhyped, to me.”
One of the things about American literature is that it’s always been slightly embarrassed by itself. It’s always been a problem that the idea of intellectual work, the idea of reading and writing in particular being real work, is still foreign to American culture. It’s always been a bit of an embarrassment compared to the active, dynamic, business-driven culture. But I don’t feel that way at all. Obviously, a lot of stuff we learned in college is not terribly useful, and yet a lot of it is incredibly interesting and helps us understand the world we’ve created, the world that also has been thrust upon us. This is my own project—to try to understand the world that we’re living in. And if that means using Weber or Foucault, that’s fine, that’s helpful.
The 2008 Plimpton Prize, the Paris Review‘s award for the best work of fiction published in its pages in the past year, goes to Jesse Ball. I haven’t read his winning story, “The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr,” but I enjoyed his debut novel, the Kafkaesque Samedi the Deafness, which came out last year. (If you’re able to navigate all the HighBeam foofaraw, you can read my review in the Chicago Sun-Times.)
Bookslut’s Margaret Howie catches up with Ball:
At the award announcement, you described the judge’s decision as demonstrating “a belief in ambiguity”; do you feel that our current cultural climate shies away from the ambiguous in art?
I think that there is a general arrogance in our culture, or rather, in general among human beings of the atomic age, that the world can be precisely fixed and understood according to coordinates, facts, etc. I don’t believe this is so. I think things can only be gestured at, and that’s part of why we should be more careful about how we behave, individually, nationally, culturally. These assumptions extend even to moral ideas, and the way that morality affects science. People today are very sure of themselves, and they shouldn’t be. But they’ll all be dead soon! Us too.
The film rights to Philip Roth‘s forthcoming novel, Indignation, have been picked up by Scott Rudin, who coproduced the film version of Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country for Old Men. It’s a seven-figure deal, something that apparently doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to with novels, according to a Variety report:
The money paid for these books and articles is modest compared to the market boom of the mid- to late 1990s, when Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music” sold to Paramount for north of $5 million and Michael Crichton’s “Airframe” went to Disney for $10 million. Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” fetched $3 million from New Line in 2000.
None of those pics has yet been made. As such, it’s highly unusual for the majors to get whipped into a frenzy that results in a seven-figure upfront deal for a book author.
And a quick DoSP note: I have a brief review of Jhumpa Lahiri‘s Unaccustomed Earth in City Paper, buried in the back of its massive Best-Of issue, which I’d highly recommend as a handy, only-mildly-snarky-this-time guide to the District.