Book mad

By JON GARELICK  |  April 15, 2008

Reading the recent n+1 pamphlet What We Should Have Known, I was struck with how the panel you had assembled talked about these very highbrow books by Adorno and Foucault with a fannish, very down-to-earth enthusiasm, as if they were indie-rock nerds talking about their favorite albums.
Because we’re in America, I think, and because there’s all this important business that America conducts, there’s a feeling that the business of books is not an important business. And anyone who thinks otherwise is just Peter Pan. It continues to be weird to me that even within American literary culture there’s an embarrassment about books and how important books can be. There’s a kind of love of books. You know, people are like, “I love books.” But there’s always a kind of apology. The whole revival of the idea of genre fiction, where people are saying, “Well, we’re not really writing literature, we’re kind of doing a mass art.” That feels to me like a form of apology.

I recently heard John Banville talking about the noir mysteries he’s writing, and he took issue with commentators who called his noirs “literary.” 
A few issues ago, n+1 had a symposium on American writing, and one of the pieces was by an editor at Doubleday who’s been there a long time, and he said, “I still remember the moment when I first heard the term ‘literary fiction.’ ” And it’s one of these things that’s been institutionalized, and it’s kind of changed the way people write. It’s created this new subset of things that are just literary. And so you have these books that are for the people, and then you have these literary books. And boy, I hope my book’s not literary!

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