It’s funny: I hadn’t given much thought to what I’d blog about today. But then yesterday evening I happened to listen to an interview on NPR with Ian Jack, the editor of Granta, about the magazine’s new “Best Young American Novelists” issue. (You can hear the audio on WNYC’s website.) During the interview, Jack was asked about any trends he happened to notice in the writers chosen for the issue. Here’s a loose transcription of his answer:
“This is what I like. I’m not a great fan of magical realism and I’m not a great fan of the over-fertile imagination... What I like is what has to be called the realistic novel... we had some novels, not writers chosen for the list, who were really really formally experimental... An interesting thing about the novel is... it’s not a subsidized artform. It really has to find an audience. So you can’t have a kind of Tate Modern of the novel... Finnegan’s Wake would really be hard-pressed now to find a publisher. Whether that’s good or bad, different discussion... Novels need to be sold and need to find their audiences, and I think that in a way has kept them quite honest as art forms. Or you could argue in another way it’s kept them quite conservative as art forms.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Finnegan’s Wake being unpublishable today is unquestionably “bad.” It’s surprising to me that the editor of a major literary magazine would find this point debatable. Though I’d love to hear the counter-argument. (“No, man, fuck Joyce!”) Taste is taste, of course, and he does ultimately offer that final caveat. But seems weird to equate realism in novels with being “kept honest.” Making formal experimentation... what, exactly? Dishonest? Cheating, somehow?
I don’t have a strong opinion about the Granta list itself, other than I’m very happy that my friends Judy Budnitz and Rattawut Lapcharoensap are on it. (Just for the sake of disclosure: I’m 36, so ineligible; the cut-off was 35.) But mostly I’d like to say, again, that the existence of forums like the LBC are terrific, for precisely these sorts of reasons.