Question of the Week: A Response to Wednesday’s Article

Hope you all have have been enjoying the regular updates and articles here at the BookWorks blog! We know it’s only the first week but we’ve got a lot in the works that we hope you’ll find interesting, useful, or entertaining

Because it’s the first week we’re a little short on “questions of the week,” but that doesn’t mean that our readers don’t have anything to say! When I published Wednesday’s post “The End of Great Novels?” to my personal Facebook page, one of my friends, Caitlin, had a really great perspective on Levin’s idea of fiction in decline. Check it out after the jump:

Calvino once wrote something how our conception of time has changed so that we can no longer read or write long novels (in the vein of Dickens, etc.) I don’t know if that’s true, obviously long novels are still being published, but maybe they’re different structurally, temporally from the great long novels of the past.

I definitely agree with you that there are more places than ever to find long works – it’s just a matter of people recognizing those spaces as valid sources of culture and that’s harder for the curmudgeonly literary establishment to do than it was for the music establishment. I also think it’s shortsighted of anyone to declare the death of the novel because there aren’t any recent entries on great books list; a “great book” is always something that exists only with hindsight.

Personally, rather than the death of the Great Novel, I’d prefer to see the death of the Great Author. Levin generalizes from “great authors write not so great books” to “the novel is dying”; this bizarre logical leap demonstrates the problem with the cult of the author – that if you only look to “great authors” for your culture, you’re going to miss the work of the future “great” authors. The field is widening more than ever and there are great novels across genres and readerships; we don’t need “this author is good so his books are good” to guide us towards the best books anymore.

I absolutely agree with Caitlin’s assertion that we would be better off if we focused more on the content of the work and not on the particular author who wrote it. Part of the reason why it’s so tough to get a book published in the traditional way now is because literary agents and publishing companies are hesitant to take risks on new authors and instead stick to fiction by those who already have a large fan base, like celebrities, bloggers, and already popular self-published authors. That’s why it’s important for self-publishers not to get discouraged if they aren’t getting recognized in the same way that someone who’s already in the public eye might be.

If you have an opinion about Wednesday’s post or a question you’d like to ask, let us know in the comments! And be sure to let us know whether you’d prefer responses and comments such as the above to be mixed in with questions of the week when we get them — though of course we can’t answer questions every week if you don’t send them to us!