Austin Books Genre Graduate school Historical fiction Writing

Reassurance & catch-up

First of all, I was nowhere near campus earlier this week when the shooter opened fire — I was still in Oregon, on the last day of a nice long visit with my mother, who turned 60 this week. I was, however, emailing back and forth with my dissertation director, who was stuck in his office while the SWAT teams searched our building and who, earlier, saw the shooter fire into the pavement near the Dobie Mall building across the street. Another former colleague from the Ransom Center was also quoted in the local news because she was out in that courtyard when the gunshots started. It’s terrible that the shooter died and mystifying that he chose this way to die, but I’m so glad he didn’t actually shoot anyone else in the process.

Anyway: I’m still in catch-up mode right now — I did work a fair amount while I was in Oregon, but this semester continues to be more hectic than I expected. So here, have a big list of links:

And finally, two links relevant to my plans for the evening:


  1. I actually saw Ann Patchett speak. I think her advice is interesting, but you know a lot of works of literary fiction are focused heavily on sentence to sentence prose and the language is a critical part of the experience. They also focus so much on it that the plot kind of unfurls that way so this approach might not work for them, at the outset. I suppose you could do something about that in revision. One opening that caught a lot of readers’ and critics’ attention is Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love. He changed the order in revision.

    On the Laura Miller article, I have two intertwined comments. First, it might be UK judgment of novels that helps women. There were merely two women in the NYT poll on great works of American Fiction from 1980-2005. A British counterpart had a higher proportion of women if you combine the shortlist and the highest vote getters.

    Though I’m guessing you’ll probably have issues with the British poll, given what you’ve espoused to be your favorite reads.

    Ironically, in an Observer ranking, Housekeeping came out ahead of several books that got more votes in the NYT survey. Very chronology oriented, though.

    The key to these contrasting trends might be something Miller highlights–the focus on size in American literary criticism. But that bias may not be a good one. I really like this essay by Meghan O’Rourke praising small novels.
    I’d add to her argument that favoring size is misguided that the Western canon includes many finely honed works. If you look at say the Modern Library 100 or its Radcliffe Rival list, there are many works under 300 pages.

  2. Thank you for all those great links! Interesting that that Observer poll concludes by bluntly asking “Should we have included more women on this list?” and rattling off a bunch of names that I’d certainly agree should have been on the list. (Especially A. S. Byatt, because Possession means that she should go on every best-of list ever, according to me.)

    Envious that you got to hear Ann Patchett speak!

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