4.23.2007

LA Times on Best Young American Novelists

Interesting article in today's LA Times about the Granta list of Best Young American Novelists. Iowa is very well represented. Daniel and Yiyun (whom I haven't met, but everyone raves about) are there, as are ZZ Packer (see Yiyun parenthetical) and Kevin Brockmeier, who was exceedingly gracious when I met him at last year's Virginia Festival of the Book. I knew Rattawut in Ann Arbor when he was in the MFA program at Michigan. Cool guy. And then there are several other people who may or may not have gone to Iowa. No idea.

Anyhow, the article says lots of inflammatory things that I'd like people to comment on now, please. I'll start. An editor at FSG says something that I completely disagree with an am tired of hearing. It was bad enough when The Atlantic jumped on this bandwagon. My question: what are people basing this on exactly? I want to know.

Lorin Stein: "The readership has fractured, and reads less, and spends more time e-mailing. And it makes less sense to talk about novelists now — the really creative writing is being done in other genres" such as the personal essay, reportage and criticism."

Also: some of these people like Jonathan Safran Foer are super famous, and some I've never heard of previous to the list. Anyone adore any of these authors?

OK bye.

7 comments:

cj said...

I don't mean this to denigrate any of the writers, but it seems a little odd that several (seven? eight?) of the "best young novelists" have not actually published any novels, and a handful do not even appear to have one in the works. If "it makes less sense to talk about novelists now," as Stein says, why does Granta think it's so important to use the word "novelist" to headline this issue, instead of the apparently more accurate "writer" or "fiction writer"?

cj said...

Here's a (painfully self-interested) question: what does youth have to do with anything? Is a list of "best young novelists" any less arbitrary than a list of "best red-haired novelists"? Of course younger writers can write good books, but is there any reason to think that they are peculiarly qualified to do so? Couldn't Granta avoid the age discrimination by identifying "new" or "emerging" writers? For that matter, why not discriminate in the other direction: am I the only person who would actually prefer to read "Granta's list of the best emerging novelists between the ages of 50 and 80"? Is there any reason to presumptively prefer the writing of people who have lived a relatively short time over the writing of people who have lived a relatively long time?

What does explain the predominance of twenty- and thirty-somethings on the debut fiction list? Is it just that old dogs can't learn new tricks? Is it that younger people have more time to write, and fewer responsibilities that get in the way? Or is it a demand-side phenomenon: is it that younger people buy more books (and demand equally young authors)? Is it that younger, sexier jacket photos sell more books?

Whatever the cause, what is the effect? Doesn't the focus on youthfulness trivialize literature, to some extent? In other words, isn't it a plainly superficial criterion? When fiction offerings seem to be driven by the same forces that drive People Magazine covers, doesn't literature lose?

Okay, that was more than one question. But that's what you get from a cantankerous, curmudgeonly, 42-year-old geezer.

kclou said...

I thought the same thing about the use of the word "novelists." Odd. Or lazy.

I think the age thing is Granta's attempt to pick the next wave of great writers. The "I knew him when" mentality. Young people don't read or buy more than older people (the opposite, I believe), so I don't think it's a target audience issue; that said, the public does want young debuts. I don't have a sociological answer for why.

Grendel said...

Wow, I want to buy this issue. I believe it will be my first Granta in about five years.

Several unfamiliar (and unpronounceable) names in that list. I'm looking forward to getting a li'l taste of each. Glad Nicole Krauss is on there. I expect to discover some great writers through this issue.

Even if I published my novel today and it won every prize, I am already too old in this lifetime to ever be on this list again. Another milestone.

I'm with CJ, though, on wanting a similar issue with older first-time novelists. How many Annie Proulxs are out there now?

As for

"The readership has fractured, and reads less, and spends more time e-mailing. And it makes less sense to talk about novelists now — the really creative writing is being done in other genres such as the personal essay, reportage and criticism."

-- I'm sorry, but emailing is so 90s. If anything they are Facebooking or blogging or skyping too much, or coming down with "texting thumb". And I had no idea I was fractured, whatever that means! I for one don't read less. Where are his stats on such a claim? And since when does it make less sense to talk about novelists? What the hell is that supposed to mean? If this Stein fellow is so jaded and "over" fiction, maybe he should find another line of work and make room for someone who thinks it rather does make sense to talk about novelists. And if I ever, ever meet someone face to face who tells me that the "really creative writing" is being done in ... I can hardly bring myself to type the word ... in... in "criticism" ... then I can't be held responsible for what my fists might do.

cj said...

Today I saw the actual book: in addition to the title, the cover actually says, "Now even younger!" Ugh.

JohnFox said...

Hi there,

Yes, I found the list rather provocative. As I read the list of peopIe who haven't published novels, although they've been miscategorized, their short story collections are incredible. have an interview on my site - BookFox - http://www.thejohnfox.com - with Rattawut, and one coming up with Jess Row.

Gather said...

Who was it that said (Aristotle, I believe) that nothing of import can be written by anyone under the age of thirty. This is not less true now than any time in the past. One simply does not have the life experience, the perspective to pen anything but mental masturbation until they have some life on which to base it.