The novelist Julie Schumacher wrote her latest, Dear Committee Members, entirely in the form of letters of recommendation. The format allowed her to illustrate the travails of a creative writing professor through a medium often ignored in fiction. At The Awl, Jessica Gross and Merve Emre talk about the novel. Pair with: Cathy Day on academia’s novel crisis.
A kiss in the dark, that’s what this first line is – Wait. What just happened? Who? – a confusing first kiss. We all would like to think that with one line, one brush, we could make a reader fall madly in love, and there are writers that illicit such a response with the appropriately gorgeous. I read a piece where a writer described her stories as beasts gnawing off the lovely clothes she had carefully dressed them in. I, too, find the stories that I will to be beautiful and charming end up, despite my efforts, strange creatures running for the woods. I’m asking you to kiss this strange creature in the dark, dear reader. And after, I want you to think, ‘A little weird, unnerving, but I’d do it again.’
These sorts of connections are at the centre of nearly all time machine fiction. These novels usually draw attention to telling commonalities across historical eras, or between the past and the present. That gives an engaging puzzle quality to the books—we read seeking out the dropped clues that will shed light on the purpose of the parallel.
In addition to just wanting to spend a lot of time together, we had some questions we hoped this trip might answer, questions we hope to chew over here, in near-daily posts: What does the Great American Road trip look like in 2014? Is it true that the book tour is as good as dead, a waste of time? Is this about selling books or something less tangible? What will we see as we cut a line through the center of a recession-slammed America? Can we sit in a car together for 13,000 minutes and come out better buddies, or will one of us, probably somewhere in Utah, turn to the other and mutter, ‘I really really wish I could quit you’?
According to the foreword in a 1978 reprint, ‘Agent of Chaos is extremely popular with convicts’ and ‘certain sectors of the radical political left’. But the novel’s libertarian anarchism seems more in tune these days with the mainstream political right. In 1999, Spinrad said: ‘I’m an anarchist – but I’m a syndicalist. You have to have organised anarchy, because otherwise it doesn’t work.’ The real Boris Johnson has said his ideal form of government would be a ‘rules-based anarchy’.
What happens when a literary fiction writer tackles YA? If that writer is Sherman Alexie, he produces an award-winning book that rivals the quality of his books in other genres. At the Ploughshares blog, Annie Cardi writes about writers who’ve made this transition, including Alexie, Roddy Doyle and Louise Erdrich. You could also read our survey of high school students on the best YA books of 2013.