The Late American Novel

We have had no shortage of "death of the book" articles by journalists, critics, and publishing insiders. Storytellers, however, have been slower to weigh in. The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, edited by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee, helps redress this deficit.

 

The focus of the volume is a bit confused, however, as contributors conflate books with novels (a thousand histories, textbooks, and guidebooks sigh) and writers with novelists (cue sighs from poets, journalists, screenwriters). The strongest essays focus on the history of the book, the function of storytelling, and the process of writing with wi-fi.

 

John Brandon's essay is a sharp and funny request to continue neglecting the novella, and Reif Larson's "The Crying of Page 45" combines well-informed histories of the book with wit and experimentation (his is the only entry that includes images). Others wax romantic on the smell and heft of physical books, while Victor LaValle's charming homage to hardcovers ends with a warning against such nostalgia: "The greatest gift the electronic age could bestow upon the novel is to keep it sacred, not sacrosanct."

 

Rudolph Delson, Nancy Jo Sales, Garth Risk Hallberg, Ander Monson, and Benjamin Kunkel smartly thread the books/novels/writing needle, ruminating on the reduced distance between authors and readers, the emphatic function of fiction, and the participatory promise of ebooks. By the end of the slim volume, readers may be ready to side with Monson, who writes: "Time to shut up and get to the making, get back to that sense of play where everything interesting, including the future, finally fast and soon to be here, starts."

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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