Novel Matters

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Hi Writers,
Today, Granta magazine's once-a-decade Best of Young American Novelists issue hits newsstands.

The LA Times featured an article on the Granta list this Sunday “In these new American stories, the world speaks,” by Scott Timberg.

There’s a lot for writers to mull over in this piece, about the emerging ethnic diversity of our young novelists, and whether novel writing is becoming a luxury for the privileged classes who can afford creative writing programs, etc.

But what really got my attention were the remarks from Lorin Stein, an editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux:

“The readership has fractured, and reads less, and spends more time e-mailing. And it makes less sense to talk about novelists now — the really creative writing is being done in other genres such as the personal essay, reportage and criticism.”

“The novel has become like landscape painting,” he said. “It’s the ‘top’ genre, but not, in real life, the main one.”

Wow, I hope this isn’t true. But looking at this list of young novelists, I can’t say they’re exactly household names.

As a lifelong reader of novels, this strikes me in a personal way. From the age of seven I’ve had my nose in a book. Beverly Cleary gave me a safe world to escape to during my parent's divorce. JD Salinger and Carson McCullers made me feel less alone through my angsty teen years and Kurt Vonnegut helped me form a worldview. Novels were essential to my upbringing and influenced me far more than newspapers, magazines, movies, MTV and Oprah combined.

Is it possible that, as Stein implies, novels are no longer culturally relevant? That they’re the “landscape paintings” of the literary world and nonfiction has taken their place? Can we get everything we need as human beings—culturally, emotionally, spiritually—from nonfiction? And what novels mattered to you?

Keep Writing,