September 30, 2010

The brave new world of reading, if not criticism


Such stuff as dreams are made of?

Such stuff as dreams are made of?

Finally, someone has an interesting take on the spoof of the Time magazine cover story on Jonathan Franzen perpetrated by Tao Lin and the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger: While the Economist‘s “Prospero” blog notes the Stranger piece is “silly, and not exactly worth reading,” it also opines that

What is satisfying, however, is the way this transference of Time‘s canonisation to a young Asian author helps to clarify what some of the bluster — call it “Franzenfreude” — has been about. Will an Asian-American author, or an African-American or a woman, ever be credited with writing the Great American Novel?

Of course, Prospero’s defense of the observation leaves something to be desired. First, one could observe the Economist is a British publication seemingly unaware that this isn’t just an American phenomenon, mate. Second, the brave, anonymous columnist also offers up the deeply ridiculous idea that ebooks are somehow more egalitarian than print books because, uh, a friend once forgot to look at the author page of an ebook and didn’t realize he’d read an entire book by a woman! Nor does Prospero raise an issue that we’ve been lamenting around the office at Melville House for a while now, as have our colleagues at other presses: that the overwhelming majority of work submitted to us nowadays is by men.

Nonetheless Prospero’s column does smartly recognize a deeper level of provocation to the Lin/Franzen spoof.  And it does raise the idea that this transitional moment in the technology of reading is “a good time to consider our biases — gendered, latent and otherwise — in our judgment of books.”

Other than that it’s mostly silly and not worth reading.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives