This Week on “What’s Lev Whining About?”

Another week, another ridiculous Lev Grossman article. This week, the silly man dodders on about which authors represent today’s “generation.” By “generation,” I presume Grossman refers an author under the age of 40 who somehow “speaks” to the 18-34 generation. Bafflingly, Grossman imputes that David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon are over-the-hill and, as a result, inured from appealing to younger readers.

But why should an author’s age matter? Grossman’s ageist approach fails to account for one overwhelming reality: it’s the books, stupid.

Further, why must an author be under an obligation to speak to his generation? Doesn’t fiction reflect themes that transcend a particular time or place? Catcher in the Rye continues to sell 250,000 copies a year, which, even accounting for the copies purchased for classrooms, suggests that it is doing quite well at appealing to younger readers. Not bad for a book that came out more than fifty years ago.

But even if we take Grossman’s thesis at face value, what of the following authors?

  • Haruki Murakami, sold 2 million copies of Norweigan Wood, at 38, and continued to attract young readers in his forties.
  • Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, published when Auster was 40, attracted a considerable number of hipsters in the late 80s.
  • That L. Frank Baum guy who created the Oz books? 44 when he published the first Oz book.

I could be here all night.

Also, the Time copy editors seem to be asleep at the wheel. Grossman writes:

Ten years ago novels were expanding rapidly, like little overheated primordial galaxies. Chunky, world-devouring tomes like Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Franzen’s The Corrections were supposed to be the wave of the future…

Uh, Lev, The Corrections came out five years ago, not ten. And Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas clocks in at 528 pages, just 40 pages under The Corrections‘ 568 pages. I don’t think the bulky novel is showing any immediate signs of extinction. Particularly while Vollmann’s still around.

[UPDATE: Mr. Sarvas serves up some thoughts.]

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