A female novelist would never enjoy a Franzen-scale frenzy of adulation in America, which maintains two distinct tiers in fiction. The heavy hitters – cultural icons who often produce great doorstop novels that no one ever argues are under-edited – are exclusively male. Rising literati like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen efficiently assume the spots left unoccupied by John Updike and Norman Mailer, like a rigged game of musical chairs. Then there's everybody else – including a raft of female writers who keep the publishing industry afloat by selling to its primary consumers: women.
From there, however, Shriver moves on to the subject of book covers, and in particular takes issue with the apparently compulsive need of her publishers to dress her books in "chick lit" covers. As the title of her Guardian piece puts it, " I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it." Shriver writes:
With merciful exceptions, my publishers constantly send prospective covers for my books that play to what "women readers" supposedly want. Take the American reissue of my fourth novel Game Control – a wicked, nasty novel about a plot to kill two billion people overnight. The main character is a man, the focal subject demography. Yet what cover do I first get sent? A winsome young lass in a floppy hat, gazing soulfully to the horizon in a windblown field – soft focus, in pastels.
There are complicated issues at work here--among other things, the tension between art and marketing. Is a book cover's job to sell the book or is its job to tell you about the book? Of course, the ideal answer is "both," but practically speaking, some books are hard to sum up in a cover. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how a novel about a plot to kill 2 billion people overnight really cries out for floppy hats and soulful gazing. And more to the point, do those kinds of covers really sell books? Not to this reader--but then, my epitaph could read, "Never a member of the target demographic."
And finally, by the way, I like Shriver's little throwaway line in the first 'graph: "...that no one ever argues are under-edited."
Oh why oh why did I have to discover longform.org? I will never get any work done! I haven't looked into the Instapaper feature on the site, but here's the gist of what longform offers: a central clearinghouse of long-form narrative past and present. Like "The Radioactive Boy Scout," a story I loved but would never have remembered where I read it (Harper's, 1998).
I found longform by way of a Poynter's piece, "How Technology Is Renewing Attention to Long-form Journalism."
As I believe I have freely admitted before in these pages (pages? entries? updates?), as a rule when I dip into contemporary fiction, it's fiction for the junior set. I'm a fan of the Harry Potter series. And I recently devoured the latest Eoin Colfer/Artemis Fowl while being ferried down the New Jersey Turnpike. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this. Will they come and take away my English degrees if I acknowledge that a great deal of contemporary adult lit-fic leaves me cold?
Well this weekend in the NYT book review was a (positive, not critical) essay about adult fans of YA/middle reader books (though the essay lumped the books all under YA). In two quotes it neatly summed up what I like about Books for Younger Readers and don't like about a lot of contemporary adult literature.
The first, from historian and author Amanda Foreman: "There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or disappointed people.”
The other from the book critic Lev Grossman: “A lot of contemporary adult literature is characterized by a real distrust of plot. I think young adult fiction is one of the few areas of literature right now where storytelling really thrives.”
As I regularly point out to people when explaining why I rarely read any contemporary literary fiction, if I wanted to be depressed, I could just read the news.
Kudos go to New Yorker writer Daniel Medelsohn for not mentioning the Laura Albert/JT Leroy scandal in the context of his piece on memoir. As declared in previous Hinterlands post (subset of the ongoing "Memoir Controversy" thread):
However, in parting, The Hinterlands would like officially to state that it never, ever, ever again wants to see an article on memoir bring up JT Leroy. The books by "JT Leroy" (that is to say, Laura Albert) were NOVELS written by a middle-aged woman pretending to be a young man. OK? Everyone got that?
Let's call it memoir week. Next up, a discussion of Daniel Medelsohn's New Yorker "Books" piece on memoir.
But first, this arrived yesterday in my in-box, courtesy the OED online's word-of-the-day.
memoir, n. DRAFT REVISION Sept. 2009
Brit. /mmw/, U.S. /mmwr/, /mmwr/ Forms: 16- memoir, 16- memoire, 17 memoi'r, 17 memoyre, 17 mesmoire; Sc. pre-17 memoer, pre-17 memoir, pre-17 memoire, pre-17 memor, pre-17 memour, pre-17 memoyr. [< Middle French memoire (masculine) written account, description (from c1190 in Old French), document containing the facts in a case which is to be judged (1356), document containing instructions on a certain matter (1477) < memoire (feminine) MEMORY n. The main sense developments in English reflect those in French.
The change of gender in French is commonly accounted for by the supposition that the word in this use is elliptical for écrit pour mémoire; however, the gender of Middle French memoire fluctuated in all senses until the 16th cent., probably influenced by masculine nouns in -oir (see -ORY suffix1). Spanish memoria, Portuguese memória, and Italian memoria are feminine in all senses.
In the early modern period in English there is considerable overlap in forms between MEMOIR n. and the forms s.v. MEMORY n.; it is arguable that sense 1a may represent at least in part a native development from existing senses of MEMORY n. The spelling memoir prevalent in English since the 18th cent. perhaps results from awareness of the gender of the French noun, although the regular spelling of both masculine and feminine mémoire in French has long been with final -e
The iPhone was introduced in 2007. In 2010, according to this NYT story, the App Store, for which no need existed three years ago, is expected to generate $1.4 billion. The breathless anticipation and hype then, surrounding the widely-rumored Apple tablet device finally unveiled this week, isn't surprising and may even be warranted. In particular, much hope is being pinned on the possibility that the tablet will be the platform that saves print, or more specifically that reverses the magazine and newspaper death spiral we've been witnessing for the past decade, which has accelerated with each year.
I am a big fan of Mac products--I made the switch from a PC about 6 years ago and never looked back, and in a household without cable, we all love our Apple TV for bringing us Mythbusters and Phineas and Ferb. Still, the problem I have with putting my faith and my reading future in digital devices is that in some fundamental ways, digital does not improve upon print on paper. Sure, it's all interactive and woo-hoo cool factor, but:
The Junior Member of the Household and I went to the last Harry Potter book release. There were probably 1,000 people, many of them kids, crammed into a suburban Barnes & Noble, all so eager to get their hands on the book that most people started reading it even as they were paying the cashier for their purchase. It was an inches-thick tome, black text on cream paper. A few pen & ink illustrations. No slide shows, no interactive multimedia, no touch screens. Just text on paper.
Still, the possibilities of interactive books are undeniably many, and interesting.