introducing readers to writers since 1995

April 21, 2005

Odds and Ends (UPDATED)

by Ron Hogan

  • Word of Mouth is a newly formed "association of women authors" that has a theory about why literary fiction hasn't been selling in recent years, and lays out their case in an open letter to Oprah Winfrey: "When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program, Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing." They'd like her to go back to picking her books from among the ranks of living authors. More than 150 writers (including several men) have added their support to the request, including Wendi Kaufman, which is how I found out about it.

  • Sure, the Christian Science Monitor lags far behind nearly every other newspaper in the country with its look at 9/11 fiction, but Elizabeth Owuor got to speak to Jonathan Safran Foer about why he ended up writing about the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attacks. She also speaks to first-time novelist Philip Beard, because Dear Zoe is rooted in other (fictional) events that are set on that day, and notes that "neither Beard nor Foer set out to write a 9/11 story."

    "As a result [she adds], both feel their narratives speak more to the smaller, seemingly insignificant tragedies of their characters than to the larger, parallel tragedy of 9/11. Beard calls his novel 'anti-9/11,' in fact, because it's these tiny tragedies that he hopes will stay with readers."

    Owuor doesn't, though, connect what immediately struck me as the most interesting dots here: both novels are focused on young characters--a precocious pre-teen for Foer and a teenager for Beard. As I haven't finished the first and haven't even seen the second, the psycholiterary ramifications of this are as yet unknown to me.

  • foerwithdog.jpgMeanwhile, Foer has a nice long talk with Robert Birnbaum, who also took the author's picture as he played with a cute dog. Foer observes of his novel's public reception, "It's very tempting to attribute too much weight to one kind of person over another. Like, a publisher's opinion is not more valid than a reader's opinion. A reviewer's opinion is not more valid than a reader's opinion. A reviewer's opinion is not more valid than a non-reviewing reader's opinion. It's just that some people work in areas--carry bigger microphones, basically."

  • (Later in the day) Brendan Bernhard also gets a piece of Foer for the LA Weekly. ("Disappointingly," Bernhard quips, "he is not wearing an outrageously expensive suit, designer sunglasses and a silk T-shirt bearing the legend 'Brooklyn's Richest and Most Critically Acclaimed Young Novelist.'") Foer has some idea of what's being said about him online: "I get made fun of very widely...I'm a favorite target of bloggers. I mean, really. I don't look for it, but my little brother is generous enough to forward me the meanest stuff!" Well, here's hoping Josh sends his brother the nice stuff, too.

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