Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Yorker 2010 Summer Fiction Issue

In preparing to write about the New Yorker's annual summer fiction issue, it's hard to miss all the other blogs who beat me to it and have decided to be entirely more profound, funny, and intelligent on the subject. The subject being the theme of this year's fiction issue, which is 20 writers under 40. Said writers include ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere), Joshua Ferris (Then We Came To The End), Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), Gary Shteyngart (Absurdistan), Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged and Everything Burned), Daniel Alarcon (Lost City Radio), and C. E. Morgan (All The Living).

Over at the Rumpus, Steve Almond writes to fellow writers, mainly all those who didn't make The New Yorker's cut, about how he feels being one writer over 40, who "no longer worr(ies) about being the Next Big Thing. Those days are over. What I worry about is the essential internal struggle – which is against self-doubt and distraction and envy." It's a list, Almond points out, that by its existence generates another unmentioned list. That of writers that didn't make the list.

The Gawker provides handy guidelines for how to complain about New Yorker's 20 under 40 list without looking jealous and bitter, with guidelines like:
  • DON'T pick on specific writers who you hate. DO pretend you don't even read new fiction. Sample: "Jonathan Safran Foer? He's a writer, you say? Hmm. I'll definitely check him out, when I finish rereading Box Man."
  • DON'T accuse the magazine of favoritism or "affirmative action." DO make up authors and wonder vaguely why they're not on the list. Sample: "That's odd—I was sure Suzanne Jeffersontonian would be here. Oh well."
  • DON'T call it "unsurprising" or "boring." DO pretend you didn't even know about the list. Sample: "Oh, The New Yorker? It's a magazine, right? They publish fiction?"
The Guardian reminds us of authors who made earlier New Yorker lists, including up and comers like David Foster Wallace, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Jeffrey Eugenides. They discuss pro and cons of the age angle, pointing out that "some acclaimed American writers just missed out by dint of age; Dave Eggers is 40, Aleksandar Hemon 45, Colson Whitehead 40." "36-year-old Philipp Meyer, whose debut novel American Rust was published last year, said it was 'enormously validating' to be chosen by the New Yorker – though he admitted that such an exercise 'seems very useful when you're the one picked, but if you are not picked, you need to ignore it completely.'"

Sounds like New York Magazine actually read the issue's eight representative stories, with a headline that proclaims "Why do they hate love?" Turns out "five of the eight stories are cynical about love." Foer's story, "hints at some midlife discord." Meyer's story concerns "A husband whose wife basically hates him contemplates cheating while awaiting doctor's word on their comatose teenage son." The breakdown of Rivka Galchen's story goes thusly: "After she's suddenly abandoned by her husband, a pregnant woman discovers that he kept a secret blog: 'I-Can't-Stand-My-Wife-Dot-Blogspot-Dot-Com.'" A sad story never scared me.

HTMLGiant gives the skinny on each author's age.

Lambda Literary parses the authors and their writing for any gay themes or connections.

The Observer tells us Farrar, Straus and Giroux has announced that they'll be publishing a paperback anthology, 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker, due out in December, will collect the previously unpublished stories that each of the twenty writers submitted.

From the business end of things comes Crane's New York Business with a breakdown of the 20 under 40 authors by agent. William Morris Endeavor Entertainment represents five of the authors, including ZZ Packer and Salvatore Scibona. The Wylie Agency is next with three authors, including Wells Tower. Among the independent agents, Denise Shannon is the biggest winner with two authors, Gary Shteyngart and Karen Russell.

Okay, bottom line with anything like this, any splashy list or publicity stunt, is that it's still all about the writing. I'm always just happy that the New Yorker still gives a shit about stories and fiction in general enough to publish at the very least one new short story every week. So there. I've yet to read any of the stories, so I'm not weighing in yet. There are brief q and as with each author, although that may only be available online.

Bonus: Can't get enough summer lit? Then head on over to Oprah to check out her 2010 summer reading list.


Robin said...

Dell -- Thanks for an interesting blog. Oops, too bad I'm not under 40. When do they publish the list of great old-timers?? Anyway, the New Yorker still publishes fiction! Bottom line: that's what matters.

Dell Smith said...

Implicit in the under 40 list are all the writers over 40 who were just too damn old to make it. But, I agree, let's do 20 over 40. Or 100 over 40. How about 1000 over 40?

Cynthia Sherrick said...

How about celebrate fiction writers of every age??

Dell Smith said...

I do. Every day.