’tis a folly

I’m a little late coming to this party, but I’m sure you’ve noticed the recent spate of “up and coming writers” lists that have been appearing. I’ve always thought such lists were pointless (aside from the advertising value, of course). To me, it doesn’t really matter who wrote the story; it is the story itself that counts.

Recently the Telegraph made its list of the “defining literary voices” of the country. Really? Why must they be under 40 to qualify for this? Are they the voices that will inform the next generation of readers and thinkers perhaps? The New Yorker magazine did much the same thing. Somehow I can’t escape the notion that these publications do this merely to seem hip. Or perhaps to set themselves up as arbiters of the culture.

I’ve been poking my way through an anthology of writers who had appeared in Esquire magazine in the years before I was born. Most of them I’ve never heard of and had to go to Wikipedia to find out the who/what/why about them. It makes me want to find other such lists from a generation or two back and see just how such vaunted writers have fared. Celebrity waxes and wanes. Promise is not always fulfilled. Praise is often misplaced. But work endures (or not) on its own merit.

I think such lists ought to, instead, find the works of fiction that best illustrate the coming age (as much as that can be predicted), that exemplify the zeitgeist. Harder to do.

I’ve often thought that books ought to be published anonymously. How many writers trade on their famous names, churning out substandard work that they know will sell merely because it is the next thing from their pen? Is that really how people should select the books they read? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the strength of the story itself to drive the frenzy of readers to the bookstore (brick and mortar or virtual)?

Of course making such lofty statements calls for me to adhere to my ideals first, and while I use a pen name (only because people have consistently misspelled mispronounced my actual name), I don’t think I’ll drop that and let my works sink or swim on their own.

Explore posts in the same categories: Rants and ruminations

One Comment on “’tis a folly”

  1. Pete Says:

    Supposedly the New Yorker published a similar list 20 years ago, but if so it’s buried behind their subscriber wall. I’d love to see the earlier list and see how accurate their prognostications were back then, which would shed some light on whether the current list has any relevance at all.

    I’ve also heard that TNY’s current list was limited to writers that the magazine was able to solicit a new story from. Obviously, that adds a huge qualifier to the list.

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