The quickest way to generate publicity buzz in the publishing world is to create a list, for as soon as you do, a whole lot of folks, sometimes with righteous anger, will create lists of all those you unfairly left off your list. The PR people at The New Yorker obviously knew this when they created their recent list of “20 Under 40,” even admitting in the “Talk of the Town” section of the June 14 and 21, 2010 issue of the magazine, that “to encourage second guessing is perhaps the best reason to make lists.”
The most self-righteous second guessing so far is the piece in The New York Observer on June 22, by Lee Siegel, who obviously needs/wants to stir up some reactive buzz of his own. Siegel uses the New Yorker list (“What list! We don’t need no stinkin list.”) to suggest that if we need lists, then “Fiction has become culturally irrelevant.” I am not going to argue with Siegel’s dubious evidence and spurious reasoning for this bit of publicity-raising nonsense; Carolyn Kellogg in the June 28 issue of The Los Angeles Times has done that very well. You can check them both out online, of course.
And Siegel’s charge that there has been no counter list, no “mischief” in the little magazines and the online sites devoted to contemporary fiction does not mean that his internet connection has been cut off from lack of payment, but that he just wants to beard a few more lions and pussy cats in their den to keep the buzz buzzing. A simple Google search will show that The New Yorker and Siegel have created quite a bit of rant and rankle across the net. That’s all well and good, it seems to me, for anything that gets people talking about fiction, especially short fiction, is fine in my book, or many books, as it were.
The problem is that everybody seems to be talking about the list without reading the writers therein listed. Not uncommon of course, when there are books out there that purport to tell folks how to talk about books that they have not read. This doesn’t mean, as Siegel suggests, that fiction is irrelevant, just that a lot of people have gotten too busy or too lazy or too devoted to what television likes to call “reality” to read.
I have been trying to convince thousands of folks about the relevance of fiction for lo these last 40 years in the classroom. I now spend my golden years talking about the relevance of the short fiction I have read to whomever out there is kind enough to visit this blog with some regularity or others who stumble across my doorstep while browsing about the web.
So, here’s my response to The New Yorker’s “20 under 40.” Over the next few weeks, I plan to talk about each one of the eight stories in the special Summer Fiction Issue and each new story that appears weekly. In about six more posts, I will have reached that minor milepost of having posted 100 entries to this blog. At that time, I plan to post my own list of “My 100 Favorite Collections of Short Stories of the 21st Century" and maybe even make a comment of two about why I like them. No buzz. No PR. No “Best of." No age limit. Just the books I have been reading these past ten years and, for various reasons, have enjoyed.