My first thought when I began reading this article about how literary experimentation has been abandoned in favor of plot was Tom McCarthy‘s C. John Lucas then mentions the book, only to assign it the role of an exception that proves the rule. But isn’t that just as true of William Gaddis‘ The Recognitions, the novel that inspired the article in the first place?
Related: Gravity’s Rainbow was exceptional enough to be rejected by Pulitzer Prize board despite the strong support of the fiction committee. Charles Johnson riffs on that and a few other problems, particularly involving race, with that prize.
Also related: “[R]egardless of the pleasures afforded by novels, was there ever a time when most readers turned to them for a refined aesthetic experience rather than the narrative?”
A fine essay on the unlucky life of writer Allan Seager, author of the much-borrowed short story “The Street.” (via)
Reasons to eagerly anticipate the forthcoming film version of Lionel Shriver‘s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
“The top 80% of all published stories in the [Best American Short Stories] 2005 through 2010 as well as notable stories mentioned in the back pages came from the same 42 journals.”
Colson Whitehead: “The terror of figuring out a new genre, of telling a new story, is what makes the job exciting, keeps me from getting bored, and I assume it keeps whoever follows my work from getting bored as well.” (via)
Connecting the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case with Dinaw Mengestu‘s 2010 novel, How to Read the Air. (Lloyd Jones‘ very good forthcoming novel, Hand Me Down World, hits at some similar themes as well.)
Patrick Kurp on the virtues of reading widely.
“[T]he book review will undoubtedly survive. So will screeds against it, which is only fair: our age is one of constant comment, and the book review must take its lumps as stoically as the books in its pages do.”
On William Burroughs‘ ongoing ill will toward Truman Capote. (via)
A novelist-psychologist argues that “the more fiction you read, the better you are… at understanding other people.”
Lastly, if you’re in the D.C. area, tomorrow marks the very first Indie Lit City Summit, an all-day gathering of indie presses, magazines, and other literary folk from the D.C.-Baltimore region to talk shop and share ideas. The keynote speech will be given by Electric Literature‘s Andy Hunter; more info at the website.
6 thoughts on “Links: A Familiar Story”
What’s so experimental about ‘C’?
“C” is a fairly “plotty” novel, but it foregrounds wordplay and philosophy—McCarthy wants you tease out what all those “C” words mean as much as (if not more than) he wants you to find out what happens to its hero.
If that doesn’t quite rise to the level of “experimental,” consider Mark Z. Danielewski’s books, or David Mitchell’s. Point being, fiction with an experimental bent still rises to mainstream attention every so often; not a lot, but I’m not convinced it’s happening any less now than it did when “The Recognitions” came out (as the Guardian piece seemed to argue).
I’ve read ‘C’ and simply cannot fathom McCarthy’s reputation as an avant-garde novelist. Something to do with ‘Remainder’ (which was pretty good, but avant-garde? I’m not convinced) and Zadie’s Smith NYRB piece, probably. That said, avant-garde fiction continues to flourish (if that’s not too strong a word), especially in translation. Bolaño, Aira, Vila-Matas, Sebald, Sorokin, Antunes etc. (Granted, two of those writers died nearly a decade ago.)
42 journals sounds like a lot to me. And when she writes of the overall number of journals represented, it’s 111. Are either of those numbers supposed to be a scandal?
JMW, it’s not so much that there are only 42 journals contributing to 80% of the BASS but that there are hundreds of fiction sources that AREN’T contributing or at least there’s no indication that they are being vetted at all. Additionally, the remaining 70 odd journals that make up the bottom 20% of the BASS are mostly journals with just one or two mentions over the span of six years, most of which are “Also Ran” status of being listed in the back of the book under the Notables section.
Thanks, Wendy. Part of me wonders if, however shallow the pool of lit journals is, things are improving. In the ’81 BASS, nine of the 20 selected stories came from the New Yorker. More on that here:
Though one spreadsheet from the great blog Years of BASS suggests that featured journals vary quite a bit from year to year. Are you planning on looking further back? (I know that’s a thankless task….)