Saturday, May 10, 2008

Death of the Novel Foretold

Author Tom Wolfe tells an interviewer for National Review TV that "the novel is dying a horrible death--it really is." But it's not preventing him from working on his fourth novel, due out next year. Its subject is immigration. You can watch the video here. To review an earlier item on Wolfe, go here.


At 10:51 AM, Anonymous craig said...

Ever have a hankering to write a novel, John?

At 11:09 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Never. I rarely read them, so wouldn't be remotely qualified to write one, either (which dovetails with my theory that you need to read at least a million good sentences of someone else's before you can begin crafting your own). But then, I don't read them because I'm not generally interested in fiction (as is true with many males, in part due to our different wiring, I think).

On the other hand, there are some gaping exceptions. I found Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities spellbinding, as is anything by Richard Ford. Paul Theroux's My Secret History remains one of my five or six favorite books, and shaped much of my early outlook on what being born to write feels like, and what it means to the rest of one's life. How about you, Craig? (and by the way, do I know you in real life?) Are you a fiction person. If so, I'd love to hear about some of your favorites.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger Darby M. Dixon III said...

If the novel is dying, someone forgot to tell all the people who live to read and write them.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It seems to me at times that there are almost as many people writing them as there are those who still read them. I'm of course on the record as saying I'm not a fiction guy, but book sales statistics as well as anecdotal accounts tell me I have plenty of company among males. But I thought it especially powerful that even one of our leading novelists thinks the novel is dying too. I'm just glad you're holding up the fort for fiction, Darby.

At 10:19 PM, Anonymous craig said...


I grew up reading historic fiction and caught that enthusiasm from my grandfather and mother. I was mesmerized by books like "The Light in the Forest," "The Agony and the Ecstasy," The Leatherstocking Tales (by James Fenimore Cooper), "Robinson Crusoe," and am fascinated by the works of Samuel Clemens. I also read the Harry Potter series so I could talk with my kids about them, and found myself rereading some pages because I found them so delightfully descriptive.

Every summer I pick out a classic or two on my bookshelf ("Beau Geste" was one of last year's) and enjoy the feast. This summer I plan to study/enjoy as many of Mark Twain's works as I can, and have already have bought three books I have learned of through you.

Also, there's nothing like a good mystery when I'm lying out on the hammock. The Nero Wolfe series stood out because the characters were well developed and quirky, very entertaining.

I have gotten a kick out of the wide variety of links in your blog. Not many of my friends are readers.

I noticed your articles about Lincoln. He is a subject of great interest to me, and I am especially interested in examining the development of his character. (By the way, "cr" telling you about the new Lincoln book was me, I just got distracted and hit something wrong and submitted the entry before I meant to.)

Aren't you at your writer's weekend?

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous rosa said...

Considering your most favored quote, I thought this was your real life, everything else is just a dream. Because of the writing you tend to love, I wondered if you like listening to jazz/blues style music as you dream. Just curious.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Christine said...

Book sales for fiction might be down, but library usage is up. In lean times, people borrow fiction rather than buy because, well, why pay $20 for a hardback that you're only going to read once if you can get it for free at the library?

Also, the business of young adult novels is booming - one of the reasons why so many "adult" authors (such as Joyce Carol Oates and Carl Hiaasen) have tried to ride its coattails (with mixed results, IMO).

And I'm not sure I buy your assessment of men-are-hardwired-against-fiction. Some of the greatest storytellers in the history of civilization have been men, of course: Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Poe, Faulkner.....

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous craig said...

Christine, you are an intelligent dear! I agree with you wholeheartedly on every count. I also buy many of my books second-hand, which may also skew book sales interpretation.

At 9:43 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow, a wonderful conversation took place here while I was offline. Thank you all.

Rosa, I think you're a first-time commenter, because I'd remember such a musical name. And what a question--what kind of music do I listen to as I dream? I can't say I'm a jazz fan, and only a little bit for the blues. My favorite stuff would probably more be called contemporary folk music, by artists such as the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan.

Christine, you make a couple of fabulous points, which is why the conversation around here always lags a little when you're not adding your smarts to it. So thanks for stopping by. I see Craig has enthusiastically embraced your smarts. Smart people so enjoy finding each other, as do serious readers. I thank you all so much for taking part in the conversation, and hope you'll continue to come back.

And finally, Craig, my writers' retreat weekend is this coming weekend. I'm looking forward to it, and there are still perhaps three seats left for anyone who wants to join us.

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Maria said...

I am gobbling up Joyce Carol Oates' "Them," a novel, purchased for the grand sum of 50 cents at the recent CH-UH book sale. I have only taught Oates' story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" about twenty times. It's a story with psychological and archetypal power that still holds students' attention, and mine. From one reader this semester, I learned that Oates borrows a lot of her material from "real life." As much as I respect the novel I'm reading, it also angers me because it is so dark, full of familial and personal struggle. If the writing were not so good, I could keep the characters at arm's length and not feel trapped while reading! Outstanding novelists depict their characters' inner lives are so vividly that one can feel one is living their nightmare. I taught Madame Bovary earlier this year (my first and only reading), and Emma's anguish devoured me as my students kept a healthy distance.

Perhaps in my early years, I had fewer expectations and did not have to work hard to resist the worlds of novels. My older sisters brought them home from school (required reading for them), and lucky finds for me. Some were annotated with teachers' insights. Yellowing as they are, those books still mean a great deal to me.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful, rich stuff, Maria. So glad you're back after a brief absence. J.C. Oates can sometimes be offputting to some writers (probably more than readers) because of her incredible productivity, with quality often matching quantity. Some purists are steeped in suspicion about anyone who produces as much as she does, because they think that good writers must struggle for their art, and slowly produce it, lest it be suspect for being too quickly produced. But she's just got a different creative metabolism than most, and she somehow teaches fulltime in addition to all of that. Just an amazing woman.

Those library used book sales are wonderful, aren't they? They're a great compromise between buying new (at full price) and having to borrow a library book for free, even if it means not being able to mark up the good parts and keep it around for later review or reference. We can never have enough of those book sales. Anyway, thanks for stopping by again and leaving your always stimulating insights, Maria.


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