Is Fiction Dying?

An article and a response

Jan. 31, 2010
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Maybe I should have used the subtitle "Do you care?" instead, but I prefer to look on the optimistic side of things whenever possible. Mainly because if I didn't, I would probably have shot myself in the head roughly around the same time I read Samuel Alito was appointed to the Supreme Court.

So I just read "The Death of Fiction?" by Ted Genoways, and I got to thinking. A lot. The article is mostly depressing, and yet I wonder if there aren't a few gems of optimism contained therein (albeit unconsciously contained, most likely).

First (and most important), most writers today are suckwads. They're parasites. Next time you're at a party and someone tells you they've "always wanted to write a book," as them what books they've read in the past year. Exclude Twilight and Harry Potter. You'll find that most people who aspire to be writers don't actually read at all. They don't support other writers, they have no favorite writers they follow, and the only reason they purchased the most recent issue of The New Yorker is to find an email address they can send their writing to.

This has to stop. Right. Now. If you're a real writer--that is, if you can actually claim to having read something in the past month that wasn't a newspaper--it's time to hold other writers accountable. If you're not reading anyone else's work, then why should anyone else read yours? In my MFA program, I was expected to read at least 10 books per semester. Minimum. And I did it, too. It wasn't work in the purest sense of the word because I enjoyed it 99 percent of the time. It's important, because it helps writers develop their skills while at the same time providing demand for a product. There's no shortage of supply when it comes to writing ... it's the demand that's killing good writers and good publications.

Second, there's an amazing level of disconnect between current fiction writers and the world around them. Some of the best stories I'm reading right now are coming from my classmates and former classmates at Nebraska's MFA program, but I don't see a lot of that in the literary journals right now. I see a lot of beautiful writing, but not necessarily much connection to what's happening in the world right now. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I hope in the next few years we start to see at least a little more focus on the world as it is right now. I want to read about a Tea Partier. I want to read about a coastal village being swallowed by the ocean. I want to read about an ex-pat from North Korea (thank you, Missouri Review!)

While we're on the topic, I just breezed through my new issue of the Missouri Review. I raved about it when I first got it, and now I can rave about it again after having read the entire thing, poetry and fiction and non-fiction included. I'm excited to receive my next copy of One Story, which I got as a Christmas present. It goes back to the True Writer's multi-faceted conundrum: one must support other writers and publications, but how far do you go? Should writers buy up crappy writing simply to support writers or, more perversely, should they buy good writing simply to provide support and never read it?

Neither. I also received a copy of Black Warrior Review recently. I haven't read much of it. The writing was good, but I didn't enjoy it, and so next year I won't renew my sub to the BWR but I will renew by subscription to the Missouri Review.

Because I enjoy it. I'm learning from it. And I want to support it.


Ken Brosky


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