Why We Read Simple Books in This ClassPosted: November 22, 2011
by Cathy Day
My favorite novel of all time is Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! but I didn’t teach it in my novel writing seminar this semester. I taught books that are much less ambitious, less innovative, less formally interesting. They are not “bad” books, per se, but they aren’t necessarily “great” books either, if by great we mean “likely to win a book prize” or “be lauded by critics and writers and remembered for all time.”
“From a practical point of view, if a book has a linear narrative, is written in a single voice, these things improve the odds of completion: You are unlikely to run into structural problems, so if you return to the book after a long gap the only challenge is resuming the well-established voice. If it involves no research the odds are even better: It is not burdened with a mass of notes, once fresh to the mind, which must be gone over again before work can be resumed. The practical is not, of course, the only point of view. This kind of book can offer a kind of formal satisfaction: The reader learns the rules of the game. Constraints can give it intensity, momentum, energy.”
1. loosely linked collection of stories–Caitlin Horrocks’ This is Not Your City
2. novel-in-stories–Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad
3. novel in vignettes/flash–Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge
4. linear novel, single voice–still deciding, maybe Hunger Games again
Will fewer students finish? Or will they do better because they’ll be given a wider variety of forms to emulate?
I’ll let you know what happens.