Friday, November 20, 2009

Books of the Year

The Atlantic's Books of the Year list is here.  Benjamin Schwartz will even tell you why on audio.  He says that the book form has probably run its course...dead or at least shrinking. (Schwarz says: "Sadly, most of or readers are not spending their extra-curricular hours talking about books.") Note that in the winners and runners up features 3 short story collections and 1 biography of Flannery O. The interviewer notices this, too.  Have short stories replaced novels due to our ever expanding access to information and lack of time? Didn't everyone used to say you had to publish your novel before your short story collection?   Were they wrong?  Discuss.

p.s. Does anyone want to buy a patiently shelved book of short stories? Some of the stories have won awards.


WTF said...

W/R this is off topic, but related to short stories and the online journal thing. What the fuck is the deal with all of the fucking swearing and in your face descriptions of fucking? I mean seriously. I am a short story writer with the start of a novel. When I think short story, I think Annie Proulx, I think Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro. But of course I have no MFA and am having a hard time breaking into lit fiction print journals. So I have been exploring the online options. Everything is some angst filled, fuck filled, fucking filled story. Oohh you are so edgy, ooohh you are so casual about sex, I am so impressed. Can you imagine Lahriri publishing soemthing alone side that shit?

All of this (difficulty with print lit journals and the fact that I feel like I feel like I need a serious fucking shower after I read the online stuff) has convinced me to focus on the novel where at least it seems like you can get something published without using the c word.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

beautiful icarus, where is it from?

Writer, Rejected said...

Word, WTF.

Writer, Rejected said...

It's a mural on a wall somewhere. Made by someone named Vexa, who has an incredible photostream on Flickr. Check it out...lot's of bird people.

Anonymous said...

Cussing has been in the print journals for quite a while, maybe mid 90s is when the creeping of the f-word become more noticeable to me. But considering the pervasiveness and breadth of meaning of the f-word, I don't find it's use as offensive as I find the use of the s-word and c-word. Sometimes "fuck" is just the most succinct and natural thing to say, where as I rarely find "shit" or "cunt" to be the best word choice.

Anonymous said...

It just feels so posey and wannabe edgy.

But my real question is why is this the lit fiction on the web? How are online journals supposed to become on par with print when it's just a fuck fest?

Would love to see an online lit mag that pubs stuff like, well, Lahiri writes. Even for flash.

kookoo said...

You can blame the fuck festivities on the editors of online lit mags. Most have no clue what they are doing. Issues filled with the whole spectrum from good to atrocious, the lack of consistency is more amateurish than amy story. A zine editor would probably reject a Lahiri story citing that it didn't make his hands feel like robotic razor blades. Or accept it and publish it along side prose poem with misspellings and fuck in every line. anything goes.

But honestly, if you had good taste and any talent for editing, would you waste your skills starting up an online zine? No, you would find respectable work in print, or write. There are very few intelligent editors working at online lit mags, it's all a bunch of pompous hacks. Their aim is not to promote high quality literature, it's to have their name on the masthead of something.

Solicit half the issues from their friends who probably say the f-word to their grandmothers. Who needs this online shit. I only submit to print journals. Sure, I have fewer publishing creds than others, but it's quality over quantity.

Ronald Metellus said...

Aren't we a little too quick to make distinctions about real (read:quiet) literary fiction?

Sexual realism has existed in fiction for quite some time. Check out James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice (which is a favorite of Michael Silverblatt, who is our best "literary gatekeeper" I think).

Lahiri is a good writer, but I feel that she, like many, has been granted to the right to bore us. While she was very nice, she gave the most long-winded, mind numbing reading event I've ever witnessed.

Call me a "poser" but I'll take a raunchy, exciting, well crafted Junot Diaz story any day of the week. Who, to return to the topic, released an excellent short story collection (Drown) before releasing an even better novel. Both best-sellers. When I heard him give a reading, he said that he tried to keep his books short ("economical" was the phrase he used) and commented on how large debut novels are these days. At the time I was reading a large, awesome debut novel (A Fraction of the Whole) so I wasn't not sure what to make of it.

Also, 2009 was a so-so year for books compared to 2008.

Anonymous said...

I mean seriously. I am a short story writer with the start of a novel. When I think short story, I think Annie Proulx, I think Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro. But of course I have no MFA and am having a hard time breaking into lit fiction print journals.


This is a pretty stupid post. In the same breath that you whine about how not having an MFA is holding you back, you have some sort of rigid definition of what a short story're either young and naive, or horribly under read if you think a short story is only Munro or Lahiri (who I frankly find boring as hell). I guess you don't think of Flannery O when you think "short story" either, you know, cause she's edgy and stuff and has vulgarities and grotesques in her work....get a clue.

Also, you sound like someone who is just full of excuses. The traditional journals won't accept your work because you don't have an MFA, and the online journals won't accept your work because it's not edgy enough. You must be some kind of misunderstood genius.

Or maybe you're just not as good as you think you are.

Anonymous said...

Junot Diaz is not sex for sex's sake or a person trying to be edgy. He is edgy, frenetic, wild, and still purposeful. The sex is part of the narrative, not the reverse. Surely you can see a difference btw Diaz and the flash crap on the net.

Anonymous said...

I have to laugh at the first commenter. You can't publish in print journals because you don't have an MFA, and every single online journal is too crude for your work.

Sounds like someone with a bag of excuses.

Oh, and Lahiri is good reading for insomniacs, but if domestic realism is the only kind of fiction that is worthy of being thought of when one thinks "short story," then I'm sure she's right up your alley.

Lindsey said...

I'm not even going to attempt to jump into this argument, but what's with all the hating on Jhumpa? Good reading for insomniacs? Ouch. I adore Interpreter of Maladies.

Writer, Rejected said...

I love IOM, too. Great book.

t said...

I sympathize with the first poster, yes, it is very hard to get into print journals before you earn those three letters. But if you are writing the kind of short fiction found in academic lit mags, or a mainstream novel, then why not just get an MFA? It sounds like you want to be a part of the club without joining the club.

Instead of whining about the lack of an online market for your high-brow fiction, just save your energy and go back to school. I bet deep down it's what you want to do.

I won't argue with you that a lot of online fiction is so bad it could only be published online, but your 2 options are to ignore it, or start your own journal. And I can guarantee you, unless you pay contributors, your slush pile is going to be a lot of fucking shit. So personally, I would opt to ignore the sorry state of online fiction and aim higher.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey.


Anonymous said...

RE: yes, it is very hard to get into print journals before you earn those three letters.

I don't think it's as hard as some make it out to be...

For instance, I have an MFA, but I never mention it in my cover letters, because I doubt a journal would care about my MFA at some directional school that's not even ranked in the top 50.

I have had three stories accepted at academic lit mags the last year, from the slush.

I have other friends from MFA programs who get work accepted through the slush, and they too never mention their MFA degrees.

Finally, I read for a national lit magazine and we couldn't care less about whether or not someone has an MFA; given the large number of MFA programs out there these days (there now seems to be 2-3 per state, sometimes 4), it doesn't mean as much as it used to...someone mentioning his or her MFA from Wichita State in a cover letter these days is like mentioning a pushcart nomination or top 25 finish in Glimmer Train finalist. Dime a dozen.

Anonymous said...

Wow, didn't realize lrod had readers who pubbed in online mags.

Next said...

Your MFA will not increase your likelihood at all to get published at lit journals. It is seriously amateurish to think it would.

Lahiri is completely boring, will go nowhere, over applauded, satisfying the most rotten sense of readers--those who believe easy, self-regarding nostalgia is a real answer to the troubles of life.

That's my two dollars!

Anonymous said...

Will go nowhere? Wow. I'm pretty sure she's already been.

Next said...

Like Obama, serious artists should play the long game. Lahiri is a flash in the pan. Increasingly I'm amazed that no one recognizes that. I mean, come on people! Think more like me.

Ronald Metellus said...

"Junot Diaz is not sex for sex's sake or a person trying to be edgy. He is edgy, frenetic, wild, and still purposeful. The sex is part of the narrative, not the reverse. Surely you can see a difference btw Diaz and the flash crap on the net."

Yes, of course. There is a LOT of writing out there, especially online, that posit edginess at the behest of narrative. But I just wanted to throw Diaz's name in the discussion because I felt that it was becoming polarizing.

Though I do like Michael Hemmingson and he, not Diaz, personifies that sexual realism movement I think.

Lahiri being good for insomniacs is harsh, but hilarious. Writers and people who's opinion I respect like Lahiri, but "easy, self regarding nostalgia" is a good way to describe her work. Not sure about her legacy, but all those awards certainly bode will.

Anonymous said...

What I find hilarious in this whole discussion is the implication--from the first commenter--that the kind of fiction published in academic lit mags is more "traditional," while all of the "edgy" stuff is online; let's pretend it's this simple--why so much angst, then, for online pubs that fund themselves, rather than for the ones housed in state-funded institutions that tend to favor the kind of work that you prefer reading?

I was the one who posted the comment about Lahiri being good for insomniacs, too. I have an MFA and a few pubs in academic lit mags, but overall, I think these mags favor more traditional fare than the language-driven work I what are you complaining about again?

Dave Clapper said...

Ah, the "online magazines suck" argument again. You want "prestige" among like-minded thinkers? Then go ahead with the print mags with distributions in four digits, tops. You want to actually get read, though? Online.

terky said...

Readership numbers are impossible to pinpoint and easy to fudge. If you just go by subscription numbers, then print magazines may look weak. But if you consider that every issue is read by 5-10 people, even more if it's an institution subscription, then the numbers are much larger than what appears in the books.

And what of online traffic? Are you counting page views, unique daily visits, unique monthly visits? What exactly? What about the average time a person spends on a page, or the bounce rate? Care to share a screen shot of your analytics with us? I can't take these claims on faith, I need evidence.