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Jun 13, 2005


Dan Wickett

Interesting choice Ed - I've got this one in my TBR pile and have since it came out and I found it (!!) at Borders. I enjoy what of Dixon that I've read - Frog, Interstate (even though Birnbaum claims this is un-enjoyable and I understand what he means by that), and various short stories. I have this and I by him from McSweeney's coupled somewhere in that TBR pile and should really get to them soon.

I now sit back and await the piling on for your having chosen an author with nearly 20 published books and an award or two sitting upon his mantel.


Steve Mitchelmore

What a shame this wasn't the first choice! It is precisely the kind of book I hoped/assumed would be chosen: that is, from a writer and a publisher going their own independent way.

I've not read Dixon as his books aren't easily available over here.


i agree with steve mitchelmore

would've been good if this was chosen over Kate Atkinson

whose first book, i saw, still in print, in barnes and nobles, said on its cover:

"national bestseller" "new york times notable book" "winner of _______ (i forget what"

while you can't even find any stephen dixon books anywhere, not even at St. Mark's Bookstore, except for marked down copies of interstate on the marked down table


Dixon is a great writer, no question. I've been reading him for over 30 years and he just gets better and better.

What's a droll job?


Dan: A very fair point and one that makes one wonder whether "award winners" are out of the question. If the LBC, for example, was in the business of selecting backlog titles, I'd recommend Stanley Elkin's "George Miles" -- a far-reaching, witty and ambitious novel about organized lunacy and personal responsibility that, despite winning the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1982 (and winning one again posthumously for "Mrs. Ted Bliss" in 1995), isn't always easy to find except in the remainders pile (which I must shamefully confess is how I obtained my Stanley Elkin collection). Thankfully, the good folks at Dalkey Archive Press have kept Mr. Elkin's name in print.

But this brings up an interesting point. Here, it seems that an award winner and frequent nominee like Dixon (and perhaps Elkin) seems to be acceptable. But an award winner who sells books (like Kate Atkinson) is off limits. For those who have been following the LBC controversy (and at the risk of opening a box of shrapnel and barbed wire), I'm genuinely curious if Dixon would be as regarded here if he had been published by, say, Little Brown.

Steve/Reader of Depressing Books: I should point out that it was a close race and that OLD FRIENDS was a very close second. But there's also the distinct possibility that you might see Atkinson on the remainders table in four or five years and that even her books could go out of print. This might, however, give her the "independent" credentials you're looking for here. :)

Richard: I'm thinking of "droll" in the older sense of the word: buffoonish. Meaning just about every useless admin job or service sector vocation that you can find today. However, I'd also call these jobs quirky or whimsical, in the sense that whole economies are allowed to flourish for such million-dollar industries as delivering a pizza in less than 30 minutes. If you were to tell someone from the 19th century about this, I'm sure they'd consider this droll, don't you? :)

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

"droll job"

I read this as "drool job" and I was thinking, "I do not want one of those."

Steve Mitchelmore

Ed, the only credentials I expected the LBC to care about are those set out in the banner: contemporary fiction struggling to be noticed.

This could have been mitigated if the book itself hadn't been the usual middlebrow mutton-served-as-lamb (like Lionel Shriver's appallingly-written award-winner). I would insist too that it's not contemporary fiction: it's corporate-publishing pap that's churned out every week (the sort of thing discussed here:

Also, it wasn't helped by the book's champion's uncomprehending praise for the book. Your own for Dixon's was easily more convincing.


Ed: Droll it is.

I met Stephen Dixon in 1978, when the Voice of America was doing a radio series called "American Writing Today" for overseas distribution and propaganda. Richard Kostelanetz was the host, and he had one show, a discussion of the contemporary American short story featuring Stephen Dixon, Carol Emshwiller, Kenneth Gangemi and me.

During the discussion he said he was appalled that I used my own name in autobiographical stories, something he felt even an autobiographical fiction writer should never do.

Like nearly everything produced by the old US Intelligence Agency during the cold war, by statute the radio show could never be played in the US.


i agree with steve mitchelmore

also, ED, yes there's the possibility of Atkinson going out of print

but Dixon is ALREADY out of print

so if Atkinson went out of print, then an equivalent 'setback' (wrong word) for Dixon would be Dixon... i don't know... all his books vanishing for some reason

also, i feel like people who like that Atkinson book are people who REALLY, honestly, like and enjoy genre fiction, but are ashamed to read genre fiction, so that when a 'literary' genre fiction book comes along, like Atkinson's book, they, the people who like that Atkinson book, feel unashamed in reading it and enjoying it

hope i made sense

by the way, i'm not dissing genre fiction or people who like genre fiction

i know that's what people will accuse me of


Steve, the link you provided doesn't work. Gives me a 404.


Stephen Dixon has given me some of the finest headaches of my life.

Mr. X

Dixon would have been a good choice. I haven't read OLD FRIENDS but am a devoted admirer of INTERSTATE and GOULD as well as his more loosely structured books like FROG and 30. I think the question of whether Dixon would be as well regarded if he were published by Little, Brown is a bit of a red herring. The reason he isn't is because he got dropped like a hot potato by Holt, which published, but took a bath on, the collected stories, INTERSTATE, GOULD, and 30. Besides, the issue underlying the resentment over Atkinson's selection has to do with Little, Brown's prominent publication of her book. It was not lost on the midlist, as Dixon's were. It went into several hardcover printings. It's a pretty feeble argument to defend her selection by suggesting that she "may go out of print," eventually. It's true: she might. But I would suggest that her career is on an upward swing. Dixon, on the other hand, is an old man. I recall Reagan Arthur paraphrasing what she mistakenly thought the argument was against Atkinson: "she was published by a trade house, so she's had her shot." OK--well, doesn't that describe commercial publishing's shrug of a response to the work of a Stephen Dixon?


Steve: You're a man obsessed with semantics, aren't you? If that's the case, I should point out that most "contemporary fiction" in toto often languishes on the stacks. It is an axiom of the publishing industry that if you walk into a Barnes & Noble, only the first third of the store actually matters. That first third is often devoted to the latest Jackie Collins, or the latest Jude Deveraux, or the latest John Grisham. Even if Kate Atkinson did get promiment placement in the New Releases section when the book came out, chances are that it only stuck around there for a few weeks at best. This is hardly the coronation one would expect for something that was apparently, as you put it, corporate pap.

But essentially what we have here yet again is a difference in semantics. And at this point, to argue the issue or to get up in arms is a bit like diddling one's self after a six hour orgy. It's an exhausting exercise that defeats the purpose and joy of what's being done here. So let's agree to disagree.

Richard: Fascinating anecdote, and something that demonstrates that Dixon isn't just an experimentalist, but in many ways, he's pragmatic about his work. One of the things that makes his voice such an original one.

Reader of Depressing Book: I dare you to read CASE HISTORIES and consider it as a book that TRANSCENDS genre. One of the problems that books has is this rampant subcategorization and the resultant genre ghettoization. Lee Martin's THE BRIGHT FOREVER is also a mystery of sorts, but its emotional poignance and fascinating psychology make it far more than a mystery. Likewise, Donald Westlake's books adhere to a very specific mystery plotting, but are brilliantly comic and observational. Ian Rankin and James Ellroy -- mystery novelists or poets of their respective cities? We could play this game until the bartender kicks us out, but ultimately it's about the books first.

Mr. X: All very good points, but there's also the possibility that Kate Atkinson could suffer the fate of Dixon, or Dixon's reputation might restore itself. The publishing industry, again, is a fickle business that drops and recovers for the strangest of reasons. John P. Marquand, for example, was one of the most popular postwar novelists. He made the cover of Time and Newsweek. He won the Pulitzer. Today, only a handful of his books are in print. And you'll have a hard time finding Walter Abish's work outside of "How German Was It?" -- despite the fact that Abish has received a MacArthur fellowship. Likewise, Paul Auster was a struggling novelist until he hit it big with "The New York Trilogy."

The ultimate point? Undulations and vicissitudes are a regularity with an author's sales and reputation. But who knows? With Melville House publishing more of Dixon's work, perhaps Dixon's stature might be restored. We cannot possibly know, because books have fickle life spans.

Don Linn

For you fans, Dixon's new novel, Phone Rings, is scheduled for release by Melville House in September.

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