The Blether…

May 24, 2010 | No Comments

A quick round-up of stuff that caught my eye. Penguin Books turns 75 years old and launches a celebratory website at which you can enter a competition to win their selection of the best 75 penguin books, find details of author tours, and ogle pictures of the bright orange Mini Cooper. In Volume Three, Issue One of The Normal School, a distillation of David Shields’ arguments from Reality Hunger are followed with a response by Bob Shacochis. At one point Shield writes, “Fiction is ‘once upon a time.’ Essay is ‘I have an idea.'” Really? What fiction has this poor boy been reading? Surely the best fiction is both? Isn’t the purpose of fiction to convey ideas through story? Aren’t novels allegories? As Emerson said, “The world is emblematic… We are symbols and inhabit symbols … The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.” And as Shacochis argues so eloquently, “who says self-knowledge is the goal of fiction?” And where in all these discussions is there mention of (dare I write it), entertainment? Like Shields I’m a fan of the essay form and I understand the attraction of the first person point of view but there are times when some essayists may benefit from a dose of “third.” Unless we are stretched to think empathetically and forced to consider structure (because remember the reader… yes, the reader, we’re not simply warbling on for ourselves unless we are journaling with no intent to publish….) we may be in risk of, to paraphrase Forster, running up and down ladders in our own insides.

Meanwhile over at Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes, an interesting discussion is underway about how short fiction collections are often critiqued, and whether ‘even-ness’ of subject matter and tone across a collection should be prized above all else.