Welcome to one of my occasional catch-all posts!
1) Books. Here are the books that I received/found/was gifted with for January:
2) A long quotation from David Foster Wallace has been making the rounds this past week. It’s about “bad writing” and how fiction does and does not edify or inspire. The quotation comes from an interview with Wallace some years ago, and gets cut off at a point before he really descends on contemporary American literature with a sharp, flaming sword of words. Check out this iteration from Goodreads, which includes a far more cutting indictment than the short form. A longer transcription of the interview can be found at the Dalkey Archive Press site, and adds more passion and, yes, some contradiction to what the shorter quotation tells us.
I am currently writing about this for my Bellowing Ogre column this week, but I wanted to point out that the shorter version of the quotation loses some of the complexity of what Wallace is trying to say. He is not just saying that there is bad fiction and good fiction, but that there are broader cultural and discursive trends in how writers and readers engage fiction that impacts not just the production of literature but the reproduction of cultural ideas and practices. What’s fascinating is that some of his arguments could be applied to his own writing, especially the immense Infinite Jest, a book which I have never gotten through. But I wonder if there is something intentional in that, given what the longer discussion points out about U.S. fiction. Wallace does not exclude himself from these trends and problems, which is rather refreshing, and I think that you need to read the whole thing to under not just his point, but something about the very idea of fiction in 21st-century America, an idea that writers and readers of fantastika (myself definitely included) could learn from.
I think that Wallace was a better observer of literature than a writer of it. Think about this quotation, for example, from Robert Lipsky’s book on Wallace (via The New York Review of Books): “experimental and avant-garde stuff can capture and talk about the way the world feels on our nerve endings,” Wallace says, “in a way that conventional realistic stuff can’t.” This is a concise, visceral observation that echoes some of my feelings for weird fiction and the fantastic more generally. And yet, some of those cages that Wallace mentions in the longer bit are present in the fantastic as well. It’s not just writing that is unreflexively mimetic that can be narcotizing or enervating.
More on this in the column!
3) Ideas: I am working on proposals for this year’s Readercon, and as is often the case have too many ideas. So, I thought I would try out the Poll feature on WordPress and ask folks which ones sounded most interesting. This may or may not have any bearing on what I finally submit, but as I focus on a few to present more fully to the con it would help to know which ones seem interesting from an outside perspective.