Monday, April 23, 2007

Granta Magazine's "Best of Young American Novelists"

from the LAT article by Scott Timberg
"Some of the issue's judges — besides Jack and White, novelist A.M. Homes, Slate's Meghan O'Rourke, Granta Publisher Sigrid Rausing and City Lights' Paul Yamazaki — were dismayed by the lack of attention to social class in the work of these young novelists across the ethnic and national spectrum.

O'Rourke, for instance, noted that the U.S. is increasingly economically polarized, but the young writers she read didn't seem particularly interested. She made a pitch to the other judges to look for writers with less posh backgrounds, or who seem interested in classes besides their own.

Jack too was disappointed to see so few novels reaching outside the middle or upper classes, especially in contrast to the days, just a decade ago, when Raymond Carver-influenced trailer-park novels were in vogue. (Even if they were often written by trust-fund kids, he noted.)

"In America all class analysis is forbidden," White wrote in his assessment. "It's as if the conflict and alienation offered in, say, the British novel by encounters with members of other, lower social classes are replaced in America by contrasts of First and Third World cultures."

"American novels," said Jack, "have become a bit like American films used to be. The question of money, of how do I keep myself alive, those questions were never addressed in American films because everybody was supposed to be jolly happy all the time and living well; their troubles were not financial."

And the reason may come from the increasing class insularity of the literary life.

"To go through this process of creative writing schools, now, to become a budding novelist, more and more means you need a certain amount of ancestral wealth. I hate to sound like a Marxist, but economics does govern a lot of life, especially cultural life."

Edmund White, novelist and judge called it the "Peace Corps novel," where privileged young Americans encounter the Third World.
It is interesting what does and does not mark a work worthy of an award, likewise what topics and trends qualify a work as Literary.
I raised an eyebrow over this, but then remembered that I'm a lost cause: I doubt I'll ever write a novel that qualifies as Literary Fiction, nor do I really have a desire to read Literary Fiction. Is it because I don't have an MFA? I'll never know.
In the meantime, if a novel has a chase scene, otherworldly dimensions or creatures, FBI investigations, intrigue or a little guy with a lightning bolt shaped scar on his head, I know I will enjoy it.


John Elder Robison said...

Those are some good thoughts, but I don't know if "inherited wealth" tells the whole story.

The largest single group of wealthy American is small business owners.

Being a small business owner is what gave me the freedom to go to work, sit down at my desk, and write my book for most of the day, while my staff ran the company.

Inherited wealth didn't help me. Years of hard work finally paid off in the form of free time.

How about another thought:

200,000 titles went into print last year.
450 titles made the best seller lists.

What do you think about the increased concentration at the top of book selling?

More books are sold this year than last

But average sales per title are down.

Why? Because the unit sales of the most popular books are higher than they've ever been

That's a "rich get richer" dynamic in publishing, for sure.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Those of us who love to write make the time to do it. I think the Granta list is recognizing the youngest generation of writers, many of whom are taking the MFA degree programs to produce their initial works. I'm assessing the themes as a reflection of the new generation's political and social views.
I write after my little guy goes to bed ( except for the last month or so- I've been painting my house!)
Marketing has a lot to do with which books are selling. I think a good portion of authors are becoming more savvy about self-promotion. (At least, I hope so.)
By the way, I think your book would be of great interest to educators, social workers and psychologists as well as those who want a better understanding of Aspergers. I'm looking forward to reading it (once I finish painting, which will hopefully be soon).

Bernita said...

I suppose I have the equivalent of a MFA ( which I once saw described as standing for More Effing Artistes) but if my work were labelled "Literary novel" I would consider it a deadly insult.