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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Re: The Cream of This Year's Fiction According to NBA

I've already commented in demurral to Karl Weber's argument that a cost-benefit analysis supports ignoring contemporary fiction and reading only the classics of the past. Although I find little of interest in contemporary fiction, I would be sorry to miss the occasional, mind-blowing encounter with present greatness that may be ratified into a classic by future readers. To add two living fiction writers to those I mentioned in my comment on Karl's post, I am glad to be able to engage immediately, with no bridge of time to cross, with writers like Thomas Pynchon and Alice Munro.

To speak mathematically, the shrecklich ratio of greatness to dreck is a shallow curve that never rises far above, but also never sinks to, zero. The electric excitement of encountering a writer of my own time who speaks to me honestly and deeply makes periodic sampling of contemporary fiction a worthwhile experiment.


  1. One of the reasons I'm in a book group is to FORCE me to read more fiction, including contemporary fiction. And I'm glad I do! It's not my path of least resistance, but there certainly is some fine work being done that I am glad to have encountered.

  2. Personally, I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I don't expect it all to be great, and when it is I'm delighted. And when it's just very good, I'm delighted, too. Things that are very good can help me think about a book I'm editing in a different way, or make me think about the world in a different way, or enlighten me about something, or simply entertain me. And all those things are good.

    I read a couple of classics a year and they never disappoint -- except when they do. This is probably just a matter of choosing well. My last disappointment: I had always wanted to read The Red and The Black, and when I finally started it a few years back, I found it painfully slow going.