Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Alternative Miss World

On Monday of this week we noted that the New York Times had run a piece about the best American novel of the last 25 years. We further noted that some bloggers were not too impressed by this exercise.

One who was less impressed than most was Beth Quittman, who writes Book of the Day. She decided to run an alternative Miss World competition. She wrote to a number of bloggers, the GOB included, and invited a different set of nominations, the results of which are beginning to come in.

When I received Bett's invitation to nominate, I scratched my head and wrote back as follows:

Within the last 25 years, can't think of anything much. Older than that:
Kurt Vonnegut -- The Sirens of Titan
Richard Condon -- The Manchurian Candidate

I might have added, if I'd thought a little longer:

John Rechy: City of Night
William Styron: Lie Down in Darkness

or even

J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye (though I don't like it's self-pitying tone)

But they're all older than 25 too.

Well, this wasn't good enough for our Bett. 'C'mon,' she said, 'rack your brains.' So I did, and wrote back as follows:

OK, fair enough, I have done some work on this. I have looked on my bookshelves, to see what I've read and thought sufficiently highly of to want to keep. And, among recent American fiction, I can't find anything much. I have also looked at various online lists of 'contemporary classics' and again drawn a blank. I have found nothing that I actually want to vote for as 'the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years'.

Now this is strange, because when I first began serious reading (in the 1950s) I was strongly attracted to American fiction and read a great deal of it. But in recent times, apart from thrillers, science fiction, and the like, I have found very little work by American novelists that I actually want to read. There is also a great deal that I would willingly pay good money to avoid reading, such as anything that wins the present-day Pulitzer or any other prestigious literary prize.

What this means is that one of two things has happened. Either my intelligence, taste, and general sensibility have markedly declined over the years, or else American fiction has changed in its nature.

Naturally, I do not incline to the first explanation, and consider the second more likely.

What has happened in American fiction over the last fifty years (and exactly the same has occurred in British fiction, I hasten to add) is that the writers and publishers of fiction have split into two well-defined camps. One the one hand there is commercial fiction, which ordinary people read but which is not taken seriously by the mainstream media, let alone the intelligentsia; and on the other hand we have 'serious', or literary fiction, the writers and publishers of which have systematically decided to alienate the average reader. And they have succeeded beyond their most lavish expectations. No literary book today can hold its head up in polite society if it is read and genuinely enjoyed on any scale. Because then it becomes 'popular', lower class, disgusting, distasteful, and generally unclean. And Puritans don't like anything unclean.

The causes of this situation are many and various, but they all have to do with the growth of the formal study of English literature in schools and universities. The situation arises because a considerable number of persons of very ordinary intellect have set themselves up as judges of what is or is not a good book -- largely in order to give themselves nice comfortable jobs instead of working for a living -- and these self-appointed experts have been taken at their own evaluation by whole generations of parents and students, some of whom really ought to know better.

Result: nonsense. On the one hand, we have books which are virtually unreadable being given major honours, and, on the other hand, we have commercial fiction, which is often manufactured to fit a template and looks very much like it. In between, if you search long and hard, are the kind of books which used to be given the recognition which is due to story-telling of a high standard. Sometimes these books, if an author writes enough of them, achieve significant sales and some grudging respect: an English example is Terry Pratchett; but often they don't.

So, what can we take from all this?

I am still disinclined to name one particular novel as meeting your criterion -- the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years. Why? Because I would only feel comfortable in making such a nomination if I had willingly read the book two or three times. And although I much admire some recent thrillers, for example, I do not feel the urge to pick them up again.

The best I can do is point you in the direction of one writer who has already produced a solid corpus of work: Neal Stephenson.

Neal has been written about here more than once. He seems to me to embody some old-fashioned virtues. He is, first and foremost, a teller of tales. He is wonderfully well informed on matters scientific -- and I find it hard to imagine that a modern writer can manage without that background, because our society is now so heavily dependent upon science and technology. And he has a good feeling for character.

What Neal perhaps does not have, as yet, is the ability to generate really powerful emotion in the reader -- emotion of the kind which will stay in your memory and will cause you, over a period of time, to read the book again. But, dammit, who today does have that power? It's a rare accomplishment.


Anonymous said...

I tried Winds of War and War and Rememberance by Herman Wouk but they were past the 25 year cutoff.
I settled on Thomas Harris for Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon/Hannibal.

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

"One the one hand there is commercial fiction, which ordinary people read but which is not taken seriously by the mainstream media"

Have you any evidence for this? The supposedly highbrow Nightwaves programme on Radio 3 had an interview with Elmore Leonard recently. I'm still waiting for them to interview a genuine artist.

"and on the other hand we have 'serious', or literary fiction, the writers and publishers of which have systematically decided to alienate the average reader."

Do you mean bestsellers like Saul Bellow, Paul Auster, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Nicholson Baker, Paul Theroux, to name but a handful?

Why would a writer "systematically decide"(whatever that means) to alienate an audience? Maybe they're making honest artistic decisions? Ever heard of them?

"we have books which are virtually unreadable being given major honours"

Name one. Was it written in Swahili perhaps?

Noah Cicero said...

Bret Easton Ellis, Bukowski, kathy Acker all had novels in the last 25 years.

What the fuck?

Not to you Michael Allen, but the Americans who made that list.

That list comes right out of Manhatten dinner parties. I've never met anyone who reads those Roth, de lillo and Morrison books.

Know a million Bukowski and Ellis fans though.

archer said...

The same stuff has happened to music. On the one hand is the stuff people actually listen to, and on the other are the professors and DMAs still cranking out Schoenberg and water, with audiences in concert halls all over the world screaming and clawing for the exits.

The better musicians know it's all a scam. Leonard Bernstein caused a huge ruckus in 1967 when he said that "She's Leaving Home" was as good as anything by Schubert; but he was right. If it's music, y'ought to be able to whistle it, and if it's a book, y'ought to be able to read it.

archer said...

P.S. How come I can read Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw or even Samuel Johnson with pleasure for hours on end, and I can't chop my way through Nadine Gori-whatshername or Toni Morrison or that Cold Mountain thing with a jackhammer and would much rather read Tom Wolfe or Stephen King? I mean, it's not like I'm lazy or anything.

Anonymous said...

Old books came to mind immediately--the ones I was force-fed in school, in particular, like The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder. (Might I be walking across that bridge today?) I often think about The Inheritors by William Golding. Pressed, I voted for A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, but I was very hesitant.

Anonymous said...

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, which I have read numerous times. I couldn't get two pages into Jazz, and although I've read Beloved and Paradise, I have little interest in reading them again. Maybe it's not author-dependent; maybe it's just that everything was exactly right just that once.

Anonymous said...

good site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

nice site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

best site

Anonymous said...

B2b Business,business to business industry professional
B2b Marketplace,nternational multilingual B2B marketplace
B2b Marketing,marketing content site giving B2B
B2b Site,Web site with B2B
B2b E-Commerce,benefited from B2B e-commerce include
B2b Portal,Online searchable business
B2b B2c,Information for C-Level
B2b Trust, B2B Trust offers
B2b Sales,usiness to business b2b sales
B2b Trade, b2g import export trade
B2b Directory, comprehensive directory of b2b
Indymac B2b, career potential,
B2b Contractors, The B2B contractors
B2b supply chain, integrating a B2B supply chain is not magic
B2b Trade Leads,trade leads for import export
Yahoo B2b,Yahoo! reviewed these sites and found them related to Business to Business (B2B)
B2b Commerce,Build powerful e-commerce
B2b Magazine,A magazine for business-to-business
B2b Websites,Designing B2B Websites
Taiwan B2b, Global Taiwan China Asian B2B Commerce

Anonymous said...

British Airways Flights,
Domestic Flights,
Economic Flights,
Flight Tracker,
Flights Plans,
Flights Schools,
Slights Security,
Flights Offers,
International Flights,
Military Flights,
Private Pilot Certificate,

Anonymous said...

Night Vision,
Night Vision Binoculars,With the proper night-vision equipment
Night Vision Scopes,Offers night vision binoculars
Night Vision Cameras,Night Vision Googles Night vision
Itt Night Vision,Night Vision Yahoo (NVG)
Night Vision Glasses,High spec night vision technology
Night Vision Camcorder,Modules for Camcorders
Night Vision Devices,High quality optical devices
Night Vision Security Cameras,security camera equipment
Ant Night Vision,A lot of us would like
Bushnell Night Vision,monoculars
Night Owl Night Vision,Complete Darkness with Night Owl
Yukon Night Vision,manufacturers of Yukon
Night Vision Optics,variety of day-time optics
Night Vision Rifle Scopes,Supplier of night vision device
Night Vision Equipment, the most complete selection
Us Night Vision,US Army and Electronic Sensors Directorate
Cheap Night Vision,Technology products
Night Vision Gear,Hard to find spy cameras
Russian Night Vision,Russian made night vision
Litton Night Visionfeaturing unrivaled Litton Night Vision

Anonymous said...

Armstrong flooring, Welcome to the colorful world of Flooring
Bamboo flooring, Bamboo is botanically classified as grass
Brick flooring,The brick flooring is one of the best unmatched alternative for flooring devices.
Concrete Flooring,it is cost effective, durable & high strength
Cork Flooring, warm & quite with high durability
Wood floor, Wood floors are excellent choice
Kitchen flooring,
Laminate Floors, Laminate flooring is the best alternate for real hardwood flooring Laminate flooring is the best.more info avaleble on google ,yahoo & msn
Marble flooring,One of which is hard stone product
Rubber flooring, his one is a revolutionary product in flooring phenomena
State flooring,Welcome to State Flooring
Flooring Industry,

Anonymous said...

Disaster is likely to wreak havoc in the life of an individual as soon as he becomes victim to erectile dysfunction and the most significant dreadful consequence of erectile dysfunction is that the afflicted man becomes incapable of facilitating erections required for sexual intercourse. The sexual vacuum resulted from erectile dysfunction prompts the sufferer to opt for anti-impotency pills, most especially the viagra medication that was approved by FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) as a clinically effective drug to cure erectile dysfunction in men. Viagra is meant to be administered by patients only after availing of viagra prescription from the doctor. The prescription for Viagra provided by the doctor spells out that the patient suffering from erectile dysfunction seriously need Viagra to treat his disorder and further authorizes the patient to avail of Viagra from the pharmacist.

Anonymous said...

sex toys sex toys
dreamboat g spot vibrator dreamboat g spot vibrator
magic spots decadent magic spots decadent
fuckingmachines fuckingmachines
Silicone Ultra Flashing Crystal Bunny Silicone Ultra Flashing Crystal Bunny
Fun Factory Sinnflut Intensity Strawberry Vibrator Fun Factory Sinnflut Intensity Strawberry Vibrator
Rechargeables Beaded Butterfly Vibrator Rechargeables Beaded Butterfly Vibrator
Fucking Machines for sale Fucking Machines for sale

Anonymous said...

Hawaii warriors quarterback 2007 hesiman award winner and top nfl draft pick earns diploma with hawaii. You can buy sports tickets for the hawaii warriors football games.

Colt Brennan
Colt Brennan 2007 Heisman
Hawaii Warriors Colt Brennan
2008 NFL Draft Colt Brennan
Colt Brennan Diploma
Colt Brennan Bio
sports tickets

Anonymous said...

companies marketing mineral makeups and also get the best bargains in mineral makeup you can imagine,
find aout how to consolidate your students loans or just how to lower your actual rates.,
looking for breast enlargements? in Rochester,
homeopathy for eczema learn about it.,
Allergies, information about lipitor,
save big with great bargains in mineral makeup,

change edition interviewing motivational people preparing second

interviewing motivational people preparing second time

interviewing people motivational preparing for a second time

black mold exposure

black mold exposure symptoms

black mold symptoms of exposure

free job interview questions

free job interview answers

interview answers to get a job

lookfor hair styles for fine thin hair

search hair styles for fine thin hair

hair styles for fine thin hair

beach resort in the philippines

great beach resort in the philippines

luxury beach resort in the philippines
iron garden gates, here,
iron garden gates,
wrought iron garden gates
, here
wrought iron garden gates
You: The Owner's Manual: An Insider's Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger
eat eating mindless more than think we we why

texturizers here,
black hair texturizer,
find aout how care curly hair,
find about how to care curly hair,
care curly hair,
lipitor rash,
lipitor reactions,
new house ventura california,
the house new houston tx,
new house washington dc,
new house pa philadelphia,
san antonio tx house new,
house new pa philadelphia,
new house washington dc,
new house ventura california,
the house new houston tx,
house new san antonio tx,
the house new houston tx, that you are looking for,
new house ventura california, you need to buy,
new house washington dc,
house new pa philadelphia,
new house san antonio tx,

hair surgery transplant

air filter allergy

refurbished dell laptop computers

hair surgery transplant

air filter allergy

refurbished dell laptop computers

hair surgery transplant

air filter allergy

refurbished dell laptop computers

chocolate esophagus heartburn study

chocolate esophagus heartburn study
be informed,

digestion healing healthy heartburn natural preventing way

digestion healing healthy heartburn natural preventing way
sew skirts, 16simple styles you can make!,
sew what skirts 16 simple styles you,
rebates and discounts on sunsetter awnings,
sunsetter awnings discounts and rebates,
discount on sunsetter awnings

truck and bus tires 12r 22.5, get the best price,
tires truck and bus 12r 22.5 best price,
tires truck bus tires12r 22.5 best price,
plush car seat strap covers,
car seat strap covers,plush,
car seat strap, plush covers,
oscoda voip phone systems, the best!,
oscoda voip the phone system,
oscoda voip phone systems,
exterior iron gates,
oriental wrought iron gates,
powder coated iron garden fencing,

Anonymous said...

black mold exposure,
black mold symptoms of exposure,

wrought iron garden gates,
your next iron garden gates, here,

hair styles for fine thin hair,
search hair styles for fine thin hair,

night vision binoculars,
buy, night vision binoculars,

lipitor reactions,
lipitor reactions,

luxury beach resort in the philippines,
beach resort in the philippines,

homeopathy for baby eczema.,
homeopathy for baby eczema.,

save big with great mineral makeup bargains,
companies marketing mineral makeups,

prodam iphone praha,
Apple prodam iphone praha,

iphone clone cect manual,
manual for iphone clone cect,

fero 52 binoculars night vision,
fero 52 night vision,

best night vision binoculars,
buy, best night vision binoculars,

computer programs to make photo albums,
computer programs, make photo albums,

Anonymous said...

No deposit bonuses - POKER money bankrolls
all possible no deposit bonuses free poker sponsorship - make money online Good luck at the tables.

Donald Duck

Anonymous said...

lol i get all poker bank rolls

Anonymous said...

Texas and few Omaha deals ultimate bet all possible way
possibility are more expensive that poker absolute begginer free only today !!
Tommarow holdem poker as tisser tour international.
Friendship or sponsors be nice poker nakkomaksu no hyvitys deposit hanko ei esiintymä bonus
no deposit full tilt poker
as we know dfgdsfg 67 day left to win one milliard u.s.euro
strategy zel differiend free start up capital for only orange players.
Start with dfgh money and no deposit free capital for poker history glad to see you.
ghbgf hane 87 optimal party bonuses
poker no deposit bonus red and blue free gambling cash and money
standard combination cd poker way no deposit are soft and hart.

Anonymous said...

poker Miss World

Anonymous said...

Bonus soft bez depu, free promotion poker promocje owy instant zupka dob $50 poker online. Odbierz sw&oa cutr&oac ute;w bez free fepozytu
Online poker sign up bonus free is easy to yoy and we have to be. Way meke made poker withets all possible.
Victor Chandler oferuje sign up bonus instant. said as well done. Earn some money free , wow i said and how horrible they were early.
Also had some comments anonymouse sign up poker bakroll and don't know how how get no deposit free signup poker bankrolls & bonuses.
Great day, sorry if spam. Now you must be carefull and sponsorship is your's.
Next poker padfg have those instant poker bonus - Poker online no deposit $35 bonus promotion.
As a friendly memben or awesome user be nice for peple.

hamiltonbrown said...

Good job! Seeing these sex toys being used by maximum women, this blog also increase curiosity in me to buy a rabbit sex as these have no side effects.