Inhuman Swill : Reading
            

Luminarium by Alex Shakar
Novelist J. Robert Lennon wrote recently on Salon.com that young writers should avoid reading much contemporary literary fiction because most of it is terrible. (The essay, in fact, is headlined: "Most Contemporary Literary Fiction Is Terrible.") It's a well-argued piece, worth reading, but what really caught my attention was this passage:

But a fiction writer ought to engage with other parts of the culture, too. This includes reading outside one's genre — I happen to favor sci-fi and mystery, but I think it's fine for literary writers to read YA, romance, fantasy or whatever they please. Literary writers are in the privileged position of being permitted to raid any genre for tools to subvert and repurpose.
The emphasis there is mine, on a sentence I find troubling. I certainly support Lennon's contention that writers—all writers—should read widely, and read what they enjoy. What's problematic to me is that word privileged, as if writers of "literary" fiction inhabit in some class superior to writers of other genres, and they're the only ones permitted to reach down and rummage through the toolboxes of their inferiors, and then only for purposes of upending genre conventions.

This is a limited, and limiting, view of genre. It implies that no genre but literary fiction can amount to more than the sum of its tropes, and that the tropes of genre fiction are only useful to the literary writer insofar as they can be employed to ironic or postmodernist ends.

Both those implications are false. Central to Lennon's essay is the proposition that most of contemporary literary fiction is stuck in an insular, navel-gazing loop—in other words, that it continues to reinforce and perpetuate its own tropes. A few works might break out of that cycle and transcend it, but if we accept that most works in the category are stuck inside a constraining boundary of accepted elements, then we are defining literary fiction as a genre. And if any works in that genre are capable of transcending its limitations, then why can't works in any other genre do the same?

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Tiny dancer, on our wall

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A quick update about "Strong Medicine," tonight's fiction-and-dance event at Writers WorkSpace in Chicago. Due to unfortunate unavoidable circumstances, Asimina Chremos (the dance half of Microgig) will not be able to appear in person tonight. However, she will appear on video accompanied by live cello improvisation from Fred Lonberg-Holm, making the evening even more science-fictional than it was before. Don't miss it!

We look forward to seeing you tonight at 7:00 pm at Writers WorkSpace, 5443 N. Broadway in Chicago. (Doors open 6:30.)

For more information, please visit: http://www.shunn.net/medicine

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STRONG MEDICINE: A Program of Fiction and Dance
Writers Workspace, 5443 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640
Friday, October 16, 7:00 pm (doors 6:30 pm)

Writers WorkSpace is pleased to host a free evening of fiction and dance in the spirit of October, featuring sound-and-movement duo Microgig and science-fiction writer William Shunn. On a mission to bring dance to places it's not normally found, Microgig members Asimina Chremos (dance) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (sound) will stage their haunting improvisations in this unusually close and intimate setting. Bookended by chilling short stories read live by William Shunn, the evening will be one you won't want to miss. Space is limited, so arrive early. Light refreshments will be offered.

(See an earlier Microgig performance, from the beer cooler at Chicago's famous Hideout, below.)

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The book of the long new year

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Many of you may have heard already, but John Klima has started an online book club dedicated to reading and discussing all twelve volumes of Gene Wolfe's Solar Cycle over the course of this year. I'm one of the board admins, together with Christopher Rowe and Mark Teppo.

If you're up for an ambitious reading project this year, please join us! Each month's novel should be read by the 20th in order to leave plenty of time for discussion. For January, the selection is of course The Shadow of the Torturer, and there are only six days left to read it. Fortunately, it's one of the shortest books in the series, so you shouldn't have much trouble keeping up.

For more information, and to sign up, please visit GeneWolfeBookClub.com.

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Doorstops

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My distraction of mind of late has been such that I haven't been able to finish reading many novels for a few months now, but for at least a year or two I haven't even attempted to read any novels of doorstop dimensions, finding them far too daunting to contemplate. But suddenly, praise Dickens, I can read again! And not only that, but I'm reading big books. The breakthrough novel for me was Clockers by Richard Price, which I raced through last week. This week I'm reading the even bigger Acacia by the gentlemanly David Anthony Durham, and I couldn't be happier.

I might even feel up to attempting Anathem next week.

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ShunnCast #49

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Epidode #49 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill, in an outtake from THE ACCIDENTAL TERRORIST, recounts the fate of the modest vinyl collection he'd amassed before leaving on his mission. Also, freethought is vigorously defended, in the context of gay weddings and dying fathers.

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=49

See also [info]shunncast.

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ShunnCast #48

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Epidode #48 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill attempts to convince you to order his brand-new six-pack chapbook—only five bucks!—and a definition for the term "chapbook" itself is sought.

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=48

See also [info]shunncast.

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ShunnCast #47

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Epidode #47 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill reflects on sex and the modern Mormon missionary, with illustrations from his own post-Canada mission service. Live from Balticon, more or less!

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=47

See also [info]shunncast.

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ShunnCast #46

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Epidode #46 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill reads his first published professional short story, "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left," on WBAI 99.5 FM's "Hour of the Wolf."

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=46

See also [info]shunncast.

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ShunnCast #45

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Epidode #45 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill reads the third and concluding part of his Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated novella "Inclination." Plus, special violence, sex, profanity and music episode!

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=45

See also [info]shunncast.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
that even a
missionary
could afford.

Order yours now!

William Shunn

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