I remember interviewing someone for a fiction job at ucd and when asked who she liked to read other than contemporary stuff she couldn’t think of anyone except Jane Austen. I actually think she was just blanking in an interview, but this came across my brain today when I was writing a list of books that I am thinking about in relation to writing this novel and none were contemporary. A writer friend and I wrote this on the back of a receipt when we had dinner last week: “Get off my lawn: two mid-career writers agree on young writers’ hunger.” We were complaining about too many crappy presses and too many younger writers publishing too much sloppy stuff in places you never heard of. The import of the small and micro press changes in a “liking” culture. If you “like” a story that ought to damn it with faint praise, right? You can like someone else’s cat etc. but that is not what literature is for…. and now I am a crabby old lady. The cultural capital of old books is still out there but it is not what it used to be. (Ha!) There is a lot of cultural capital in knowing/cheering on a bunch of people who are running around publishing each other. That changes the meaning of being something like a “literary citizen”– a term that I think is way too often, these days, confused with “participate in the culture of self marketing” and that shit is NOT THE SAME. And exploding the canon is not the same as “liking” everyone.
What I felt, though, about my list of “older” books was honorable. I feel much better about not “keeping up” with contemporary fiction the more what I think the point of living a literary life is only very indirectly connected to it.
Maybe I just hope someplace (like N+1 or something?) will emerge as an editor that will shift the gaze of mainstream attention– or really, just sort through the baloney so I can have a shot at “keeping up” in a way that does seem related to being a contemporary person of letters?