The decline of fiction starring Jonathan Safran Froer

Last week the Atlantic announced that from here on in, it would be publishing fiction only once a year, in a special issue. Once upon a time, Playboy supported a whole generation of worthwhile authors, from Shel Silverstein to Isaac Bashevis Singer and a host of talented goys, too. Before that, Sports Illustrated published Faulkner. Now, there’s The New Yorker and the Paris Review and little else, and the consolidation of publishing houses has nearly wiped out the mid-list author, leaving young authors with just one chance to write that great book before they get dropped, and just a handful of editors deciding who gets that one shot at the brass ring. With the decreasing number of outlets for quality fiction, each season’s “young stars” find themselves praised regardless of the quality of their work—there’s a common readership for Lahiri and Eggers, even though she’s brilliant and he’s anything but.

20 thoughts on “TRUTH.

  1. I agree in the lack of quality fiction in magazines, and in the lack of quality magazines. I think of lot of the lack of quality in magazine and newspaper writing stems from authors filled with sneering, whining, hypocricy and the illusion of self importnace, such as the article you linked to.
    It’s a book. Turn the page.

      1. Sure you can be enraged. Look at who is buying the books. Look at who is selling and publishing them. The public is getting what it pays for. Like politicians and television shows it’s all become marketing and hype. Who shouts the loudest gets all the attention. Am I saying that’s right. Not really. That’s what’s it’s come to though. Targeting one specific author of a sea of incompetents who are mediocre at best seems more of a personal and unprofessional attack than a critical one.

      2. It’s worse than that.
        I still disagree. The spreadsheet people have optimized publishing now to remove the midlist and tune the marketing to book candy like Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Coupland, and the rest of the young smart short-attention-span set. I think the writer of that review was entirely justified in a hatchet job on another tool of that machine. There’s always a bias towards the young and pretty and explosively new, but at this point it’s been rationalized into a business strategy that locks out anyone who doesn’t fit from the distribution channels.
        Targeting one specific author is what reviewers do!

      3. Re: It’s worse than that.
        Like Marilynne Robinson winning the Pulitzer for Gilead…uh…nevermind.
        Wait until Foer’s wife’s book is released next month. Same basic plot and Amazon’s bundling them togethor. The squeaky one gets the grease, and the public is too lazy to look deeper.
        I’m a drifing old man here. I remember Spy Magazine went off on Jeff Smith, the frugal gourmet, in some expose. And this was before the child molestation charges came out! The guy went on for pages with nothing but vile hatred, and for what? Guess it’s a lot easier to fling a stone and break a window than to put a better one in yourself.

      4. Re: It’s worse than that.
        Why? Am I making a point? Or am I not up to your intellectual level?
        Merely trying to have a discussion in which you put the subject header ‘Truth’ and linking to an article that has a lot of grey areas.
        Plainly: I think Siegel craoosed the line between being a critic and a dick.
        I don’t have a problem agreeing to disagree.

      5. Re: It’s worse than that.
        I just wanted to drop it, because you’re being hostile and I don’t have the energy to get yelled at today. So, please drop it?

      6. Re: It’s worse than that.
        You link to an article in which the words fraud and hack are paraded about, you call it truth. I disagree and you call me hostile?
        Simple disagreement = hostility?
        Yeah, I’m out of here.

      7. Re: It’s worse than that.
        I never called you a fraud, or a hack, or anything at all. I just disagreed with you, and then you got angrier and angrier at me, for reasons I do not understand. It isn’t “simple disagreement” when you bait me with “am I not up to your intellectual level” and use hot phrases like “parade about” and “merely trying to have a discussion”. That’s fight-picking.
        Disagree with the article all you want, disagree all you want with me! I’m not telling you not to! You care about this shit and you are honest and forthright, and I really value that about you.
        I have nothing bad to say about you at all. I disagreed with you about a matter of literary criticism and you picked a fight, and that is hurtful.

      8. Re: It’s worse than that.
        I’m not going after you personally here either. The writer of the article you linked to, yes. I disagree with more than a few of his opinions. Siegel paraded about the words fraud and hack. I’m not calling you those words, but I’m calling you on them for linking to that article and calling it truth. Note the difference?
        I have nothing bad to say about you, nor am I angry.

      9. Re: It’s worse than that.
        I do note the difference. I’d like you to note another difference. Disagreeing with someone and “calling someone on it” are two different things, and the second one is picking a fight. You win. I’ll take my bloody nose home.

  2. “Strange as it may seem, the strong have always to be upheld against the weak; and the well constituted against the ill constituted, the healthy against the sick and physiologically botched. If we drew our morals from reality, they would read thus: the mediocre are more valuable than the exceptional creatures, and the decadent than the mediocre, the will to nonentity prevails over the will to life, – and the general aim now is, in Christian, Buddhistic, Schopenhauerian phraseology  ‘It is better not to be than to be’.”

  3. While I find this kind of thing regrettable, I think it’s inevitable. More and more, distribution channels for media like this have to narrow so they can capture their audience better. If Playboy’s readership had gone down after they stopped printing literature then they would have put it back in, but it’s clear that it was to their economic advantage not to do so.
    I think what’s cool is that there are other channels for distributing literature now — that is, the Internet. Once people stop thinking that being published in a magazine or as a book is the pinnacle of the art of writing, then more “mid-list” writing will be available for people in a more open forum. All getting a book deal means is that some guy at a publishing house thought your book was good — not that it actually *is* any good. Like I said, I think it is regrettable that those of us in the literate minority are losing the help of others to find writing that is honestly good, but nature abhors a vacuum, so as this trend continues, counterpressure will eventually move that kind of writing to freer market.
    A good example of this already happening is in music, where the RIAA’s psychotic market pressure has caused a huge upsurge in internet distribution of music. this isn’t all the way there either, but it’s coming, I am sure. For a more compelling example, look at cartoons: the nationally syndicated newspaper cartoon is a wholly dead landscape, but webcomics have more than taken up the slack. I don’t know if there’s a causal relationship there or if it’s just a happy coincidence, but I see it as a trend that all kinds of media are going to eventually follow.
    Also, I like pie.

  4. “When success happens to an English writer, he acquires a new typewriter. When success happens to an American writer, he acquires a new life.”
         — Martis Amis. [date?]
    I have no grand point to make with that quote — it merely comes to mind.

  5. ebooks
    This may sound like utter madness, or like something from Wired in 1996 (which is another way of saying “utter madness”), but here goes:
    After my years of insisting otherwise, I now grudgingly admit that I think we need e-books.
    We’re so close — even a cheapo mp3 player has a hundred times the processing and memory power that you’d need to run an e-book. Last I saw, PDAs were almost useable as e-books; but the screen quality just isn’t there yet.
    I’m not going to pretend that once we have e-books (whether they’re actually called that, or whether they’re just PDAs with decent-enough screens that you can read off them for more than a minute without going crosseyed), that suddenly we’ll have such a reflowering of prose that everyone now with an mp3 player will also be carting around ten amazing novels.
    But it would be nice.

    1. Re: ebooks
      I used to feel the same way about e-books, until I started knitting a lot. I started reading a lot less, because it’s very hard to knit and balance a book and turn the pages. I started to look around, though, and there are a lot of pretty good books in e-book format now. I got a reader for my regular computer (so it’s big enough to read without squinting), and I get a lot of knitting and reading done now.
      It’s not a perfect solution (until I can get voice activated page-turning, bwahaha), but it works! I think the biggest problem is, as usual, that there are a lot more mass production crap books out there (so far) than truly good ones. It’s starting to change, but not fast enough for my taste. What I do find fun is the small-production tinfoil hat crowd are really embracing the medium. You can find some truly insane stuff out there.

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