I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently, during which she asked if I was seeing a shift in the kinds of books that people are reading and writing. We eventually got around to the question of whether attention spans have gotten shorter, and if so, did that translate into the reading and writing of shorter books, or books that could be read quickly even if they were long because they didn't require deep thought.
"No," I said pretty quickly myself. "I'm not seeing that." I was thinking of the gorgeous 162,000-word novel that I worked on last spring. "I see plenty of long, complex novels." But then I got to thinking about it. Actually, I don't see plenty of long, complex novels. As usual, I'm seeing plenty of good books with plenty of good writing, but for the most part I'm not seeing novels that create a spacious, compelling world and then sustain story, depth, and elegance of writing for many hundreds of pages. Nor am I reading many of them after publication. It would be too simplistic to say that people aren't reading and writing roomy, complicated novels because attention spans have gotten shorter, but I have to wonder if that's part of it, if indeed there are fewer of these books being written.
Two exceptions come to mind: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, published two years ago.
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, published last year. Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, published in 1998, fits into the ambitious-in-scope-and-achingly-beautiful category, too, but I'm really looking for more recent titles.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2005) is a possible addition to this list. Ultimately, however, the scope of her story is not quite as quite as broad, and there are too many unsympathetic characters for my taste -- but boy can Zadie Smith write.
Does anybody have any other ambitious and relatively recently-published books that I can add to my reading list?