With the advent of e-readers, books on the subway are getting harder and harder to spot. It takes dedication to get a sense of what people are reading these days. At The Awl, Ben Dolnick sets out to catalogue a week’s worth of sightings, which included a man reading Cloud Atlas and The Stranger and a teenage girl reading Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. You could also read our own Nick Moran on the question of whether e-readers are really green.
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.
Nic has found a mirror. He looks into his own eyes and does not smile. Moments later he averts them, then lets them creep back up to meet themselves. ‘As a creator, you always have one eye on the back of the room, where you know they’re loading their guns and building your gallows,’ he says, lightly punching the reflection of his own fist.
We wanted it to be livable and sort of pleasant. We wanted it to be a little dumpy, too, because that’s sort of our MO.
Now, I’m not going to lie. It’s annoying, to have to take time out of my incredibly busy writing schedule in order to spell it all out for young people, just because they spend most of their daylight hours being urged by hoary old theorists in threadbare sweaters to write experimental fiction that will never sell. But I care deeply about the young—all of them, the world’s young—so of course I am humbled and honored to share the trade secrets embedded in my rigorous daily work schedule.
To be faithful & timid, to redirect resentment ’til it rolls over &
submits. Remember what you never understood.
Well, continuing with my policy of baring my soul, Dwight Garner said something like, the book was like one of those satellite photos of North Korea when I talked about the second marriage. I obviously had very little access to Updike from ‘77 on, really. And I cheated a bit by using Ian McEwan as my spy in the Updike household. First of all, Updike definitely did pull up the drawbridge and retire into his castle and I thought, in a sense, that this should be respected. He had decided on his persona, at that point—the highly professional man of letters. And I thought, why not let him go out with that persona intact?
There arose a sense, as it were, during my progress, that despite James’s attention to circles of social intercourse that couldn’t, in good faith, be called anything but rarefied—that still, his plots are marked by the basest sort of pecuniary maneuvers, the grimmest cruelties. A kind of wary discomfort, furthermore, in encountering such troubling portraits surfaced throughout my reading, nevertheless it does not follow that James’s depictions, while necessarily harsh, contained untruths. Indeed I have seen, in my limited three decades of existence—encompassing in their span very little fortune-hunting and almost no underhanded impositions on consumptive heiresses—a great deal, that is to say almost limitless, social rigidity and, one must also add, capacity for greed and selfishness, all of which are shown by James in his process of storytelling so that, if we must be honest, it has both agonizing and resonant effects on the reader.
Counting downloads actually confuses what counts as success instead of clarifying this thorny problem. Consider Moby Dick, which was the sixteenth most popular eBook of the past month at Project Gutenberg. Moby Dick was a massive flop at the time of its publication and struggled for decades to find an audience. Conversely, Marie Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan, perhaps the best-selling British novel of the entire nineteenth century, was downloaded only 135 times in the past month. Do we trust 1895 or 2013 in gauging a novel a success?