Friday, December 17, 2010

In Which I Briefly Praise Literary Fiction

Before Rejecting Those Who Read It Exclusively: A Novel

I read everything, it's what I do. I'm an intellectual striving to get paid for it, so of course I read. Furthermore, how can I be sure I'm not writing The Same Old Thing if I don't read a representative sample of everything else? Fair's fair. 

I've read a reasonable proportion of the Classics, Penguin or otherwise, and the two things I can say is that they're mostly good (special shout-out to Nabokov) and that Pride & Prejudice is not improved by zombies. From time to time I pick up the latest Literary Sensation (last case being "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen), and usually I enjoy it. I can hold my own in a hoity-toity discourse on literature, so long as I don't let on that I finished reading the book. That's not a joke, that's just good strategy. A bohemian mustn't endanger his supply of wine.

I like the idea of a genre devoted to the Craft of Writing, fiddling with language and emotion and generally working out the effects of the (in this case) English language on people, viewing each work as an experiment and taking careful notes. What is the ideal reading length? Does the reader really care about adverbs? Sentence structure, phrases good? And so forth. I call it Literature Science, and obviously that's not what's going on in MFA programs.

Maybe I just don't trust anything without at least observing a little perfunctory data collection being done, but it seems that Literature, by which I mean those in the literature genre who don't admit they're a genre, has puffed itself up without having any hard numbers for a foundation. How do they know they're Art? How do they measure the emotions their writing is supposed to be evoking? They haven't even asked those questions. 

Eh. I apparently can't get too excited about this, so all I'll say is: Look at the New York Times reviews of fiction books and you'll almost certainly discover that the so-called genre book reviews are a lot more interesting, as evidenced by how they don't have to talk about the author for the first quarter of the article.

Read everything. 


When I'm a rich eccentric writer, I'm going to buy a printing press and give it to an inner-city school. Learn 'em a trade, it will.

As for myself, I'll have a book printer in my house.

250 words? Yes
Book "Lived Too Long to Die"
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  1. Ah, literature. My favourite thing is when writers distinguish literature from genre, commercial, and mainstream fiction. What are all these things? Especially commercial fiction. What is uncommercial fiction? That must be the half-finished stories on my hard drive. They are incapable of acquiring dollars. Somehow, literature must have a special device for misdirecting all the money it makes to preserve its holier-than-thouness.

    But yeah, I mostly despise the literati despite enjoying their work.

  2. I suppose my favorite would be "popular fiction" accompanied by a sniff of disdain.


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