Here's an article from the New York Observer by critic Lee Siegel that's causing a shit storm through book pages everywhere. In it he decries the fall of the American novel, and the downturn of fiction in general. In direct response to the New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list (which Siegel calls "self-promoting" and "vulgar") Siegal takes aim at an entire complex of magazines, editors, publishers, and insular reader/writers who have turned literature into a "profession."
Siegal's piece is reactionary but it certainly struck a nerve—blogs, magazines and newspapers have joined the fray. The Guardian UK has a handy summary of what's going on out there.
While I feel like we've been down this road before, and while I feel like critics like Siegal have to come up with something controversial to keep themselves relevant, the essay did ring true to me. It hearkens back to some of the arguments made in David Shield's rabid Reality Hunger from earlier this year, especially in highlighting nonfiction as a much more engaging and relevant genre at the moment, stories and television rooted in "real" stories holding the same cultural fascination that fiction once did.
Siegal is pretty specific in singling out the American literary fiction scene. I have noticed myself reading a lot less contemporary American fiction these last few years. The mystery scene is becoming dominated by the Scandanavians. Are these trends? Are they indications of a deeper cultural movement? Or is Siegal a bitter hack who clearly missed our blog post on the alternate 20 under 40 list?
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