Lidia Yuknavitch’s Weblog

the body of the word

novel: the american novel

dublin-pub.jpgTopic: The American novel—is it only a commodity/product anymore or does it “do” something worthwile

Setting: A corner of a pub in Dublin. Winter. Very dark. Bar talk and a bit of music. A lot of smoking. A lot of very dark beer. They are all drunk, but not dunk as monkeys yet. They are drunk in that “I’m saying important things god-damn it” way. They are sort of on the verge of arguing. They are generally isolated in a corner, since they are most definitely American artists in Ireland. It is June 10.

Someone has just said: “Nobody reads. Reading is obsolete. It’s become ridiculous. Novels? Idle airport chatter. Neighborhood book clubs.”


  1. Yah, it’s all about talking, right? Like human interaction, that’s what matters, right? I mean, when that goes obsolete . . . I don’t know. But reading is just like having a conversation, it’s just an opportunity to have a conversation with someone actually worthwhile. Gee, does anyone have a book I could borrow? I’d rather go talk to some dead people. Ha ha.

    Comment by evan | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. Yeah, so? Look, it’s commerce. Commercial. Right, commerce. I mean, true, true, everything you’re sayin’ is true, right? But, hey, so? Where do we live, when do we live? Now, it’s all very NOW. Right now. And right NOW, people read. They do. They do. I don’t see people read on airplanes much really. No, fuckin’ seriously, I’m usually the only one. Fuck it’s cold. No, I don’t see people read anytime besides salon. Or the toilet. Well, okay, there’s that guy over in the corner. I can’t see what he’s reading. It’s probably not Dostoevsky or Copurnicus or whatever shit YOU might be talking about, it’s probably Har – oh shit, he IS reading Dostoevsky. Hey! Hey you! You rock man, fuckin’ awesome!

    Comment by Jesse "The Snake" Walvoord | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. DARling. Too many people are sad to be American in American novels. It’s a total put-off. Completely kills the mood. And what more — total posturing. Light? I say, go evil.

    Comment by Tye | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  4. Nobody has ever read. In the 17th century the poets later dubbed the metaphysicals passed their manuscripts around to each other. ‘Publishing’ did not happen often. What’s more, most of the population for most of history has been illiterate. The audience for novels will wax and wane, but they will never disappear. In this era of electronic publishing, we still use letterpress for a number of reasons.

    Comment by Jeff Hansen | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. Don’t fuckin say “nobody” unless you mean “nobody.”

    Comment by Debra Di Blasi | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m telling you the american novel has been sucked up into the capitalist hoover upright just like all american art has…you aren’t going to see any more god damned “movements” … that shit’s dead. so the meat sacks READING the so-called novel are just consumers. with the exception of course of the fucking intelligentia…ha. what a crock of shit. the american liberal university SCENE and its bubble-making factory…yeah ok so THEY read. but they’ve made the act of reading itself so elite i’m amazed they can even shit.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  7. Are you kidding? I get some of my best stuff at neighborhood book clubs. Seriously. It’s like a crowbar to the back of the knees.

    Comment by VP | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  8. Capitalistas never own the product. They just own the container. So step one is find a new container. Because capitalistas are slow to change and we’ll get somewhere before they can catch us, by god. The American novel isn’t dead or useless. But I don’t think it can live much longer between the covers before it suffocates.

    Comment by Anton | August 9, 2007 | Reply

  9. The Am-MER-ican NOV-el, the Am-MER-ican NOV-el, there IS no American novel because America IS a novel Total fiction, you can’t believe a fucking thing you hear over there. It takes getting out of there to see what’s going on.

    Comment by tomfrick | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  10. AMEN. what were we ever thinking? idle chatter. eating and paper. c’mon. did we ever think we’d be born again?

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 11, 2007 | Reply

  11. Academics shit cause it’s automatic–or, if the pipes are stuffed up, then, well, there’s bound to be a wine-enema powerfuck with some boobly grad student, whose cooter is deeply, phenomenological, in the Heideggerian sense, while she helps her middle-aged prof. disseminate his insides all over the bathmat. That’s the American novel today, mon cher: messy, fecal, and reeking of power dysfuctions. Nothing to read cause the words are actual inside some jackoff’s lower intestine…

    Comment by Henri d'Mescan | August 12, 2007 | Reply

  12. I’d like to ask Oprah her opinion of the American novel today. (She’s had the likes of Faulkner, Marquez, and McCarthy on her book list, after all! And does she herself not epitomize the popular American T.V. icon? Are not many T.V./popular culture-addicted people reading these challenging books solely because of her?) The American novel isn’t dead, it’s just wounded by the competition, by other forms of media. At least this is the common argument one hears these days. It’s hurting — the publishing industry is hurting. Books have become a commodity, rather than having anything to do with Art any longer. Just like Hollywood. Just like McDonalds and X-box and cell phones that do everything and then some. People want instant satisfaction. They want Dan Brown. They want to be lost in the world of Hogwart’s (born in the U.K., mind you). They are overwhelmed by themselves, by their culture, which is a sick and withered weed (or bush, if you prefer) indeed…

    Books take time, energy, patience, perseverance, a shift in personal paradigm in some cases…This is the antithesis of what popular culture dictates, is it not? And, so, why should we expect the American novel to thrive under such social and political conditions (without an Oprah to stand up and promote them, that is)? There’s a war going on in Iraq, the global economy is constantly teetering, job security is anything but assured, and the planet is frying in waves of exhaust spat out from the machines that have “made America great” (the GM executive said with aplomb). Is it any wonder (wonder?) that people who read will choose to read “non-fiction” in order to try and get a grasp on what’s “really” happening in this fucking world of ours, or, alternately, light entertainment? Now, I’m not trying to defend my insolent countrymen here, friends, and I’m certainly not siding with the publishers, who claim that this is what all of us want to read all of the time. Actually, why don’t we ask a Dubliner — they’re ubiquitous here, after all. I’d love to know what others think of our reading (and non-reading) habits. Ha, ha. Forgive me. I’m drunk. What was that I said about weeds earlier?

    Comment by marc lowe | August 12, 2007 | Reply

  13. So okay, I’m reading all this, and thinking I’m so confused–the way novels can’t be art if they are commercial (what’s the carbon footprint of your novel?) vs. writing can’t be a novel unless its commercial (unless we all just write for each other). But the one thing that seems to be true is that writing isn’t art unless its useless the way a factory gear can only be art if its taken out of the machinery, maybe put in a gallery. But by destroying the practical function of an object, or a text, it becomes rhetoric, and calling attention to rhetoric can be very useful, even life saving: i.e., if, after 9/11, more Americans had seen SHOCK & AWE as the rhetoric it was instead of proclaiming the end of relativism like all the right-wingers did, maybe some 600,000 people wouldn’t have been killed by now in Iraq.

    Comment by ST | August 17, 2007 | Reply

  14. Let me tell you a story it’s a true story I shit you not. Last fall I was at this like writers’ conference? This like former New York editor gave a talk on current publishing conditions? You know what the title was? The title was “How to Sell a Book a Year.” As I say this is a true story. I wrote down her two main points? She was this like bantam woman in her early fifties with heavy black nerdy glasses and artificial blond hair that had been mussed meticulously? She wore tight jeans highlighted with rhinestones and spoke in this like chipper amphetamined voice of a stand-up comedian or Hannah-Barbera character? Apparently she’s like best known for having had a hand in bringing out best-selling books on the miracle of Christmas the miracle of sons the miracle of fathers the miracle of guardian angels and how to become what she termed a quote millionairess unquote. I continue to shit you not. You may think I’m making this up? As Oprah is my witness I’m not. Point One When someone in the publishing industry comes up to you at a cocktail party and asks you what you do you should first tell them you’re in the book business and only when they ask what your role there is should you tell them you’re just a writer. Point Two To be a successful writer you need to learn to focus on the same things the people at Nike are focusing on this very minute market trends platforms packaging celebrity endorsements. I was sitting toward the back of the room when she said those things? And you know what I felt at that particular moment in the space-time continuum? I’ll tell you what I fucking felt. I fucking felt the like complex emotions I usually feel for bungee-jumpers on The Discovery Channel who forget to measure the length of their bungee cords before going over the bridge railing? That’s what I fucking felt. Seriously, man. Seriously.

    Comment by Lance Olsen | August 18, 2007 | Reply

  15. I totally call your shit bluff, man, cause I was there, and obviously your memory’s like totally wrong because her jeans had sequins on them. Not rhinestones. And her shoes, well, they totally matched. And her voice. Not amphetamined. That, my friend, vocal chord surgery.

    This chick, man, she is the American novel. She’s what good fiction should be.

    Comment by Lily | August 18, 2007 | Reply

  16. Someone has just said: “Nobody reads. Reading is obsolete. It’s become ridiculous. Novels? Idle airport chatter. Neighborhood book clubs.”

    And I’m drunk enough to take advantage of my killer body and low cut shirt and start talking. I keep telling myself I’m not going to mix things. Only rum. Pirate juice. But somebody just handed me whiskey and that’s an invitation. I’ve gotten shit all night because I won’t touch beer. It’s an acquired taste, they all tell me. I tell them fuck off. When I realize I like beer, it’ll be the day I realize I have no more standards.

    “Kind of like reading romance novels.” I say.


    “Drinking beer. It’s kind of like reading romance novels.” I breathe in my drink like I would coffee, draped in my chair. “You like it because you can disappear into it and forget who you are, but it’s cheap, has a bitter after taste, and is depressing as fuck if you start thinking about it.”

    “You read romance novels?” somebody asks me.

    “I read whatever I get my hands on. Or at least try it. You gotta be willing to try everything twice.” I say, leaning forward. “First time might be a fluke. But like I said, sweetheart, standards. You gotta read shit that requires an imagination to write and a brain to read. None of this realism shit. None of this pretentious we gotta show the world the HUMAN CONDITION bile PH.D.s are hacking up. You want a book where the title’s written bigger than the author’s name, and it’s got some fucked up looking shit on page 27. Otherwise you’re just looking at some Upstate New York cornfield wondering things about legs in July.”

    “If you want to look at the world,” I say, “Open up your god damned eyes. If you want good literature, open your mind.”

    Comment by Laura | August 19, 2007 | Reply

  17. everyone looks a little humanly stun-gunned…but they have to admit, she looks GOOD so the things coming out of her mouth sort of seduce them and crawl right up the anus of their self righteous ARTISTE-estness.

    i’d bed her. that’s what i’m sitting there thinking. in fact, i don’t fully know why i haven’t. what balls. i mean for christ’s sake, she’s putting romance novels on the dash. HA. what a good cunt move. and what’s with the fucking beer boycott? rum is pirate hooker juice.

    yeah, i’d bed her. and isn’t this the american novel? quintessentially? somebody hand me a drink. somebody aches for a cunt. somebody opens their mouth, and whatever the topic was, whatever we were all after, falls away into a moment of desire and language.

    any desire.

    any language.

    fuck me.

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  18. ok

    Comment by Caitlin | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  19. Daniel Steel is one rich bitch. She’s fucking Haloburton. She is the best paid author in america. Daniel Steel, the gand poobah of them all, the one you should put a finger as the cause of the decline of literacy in America. And she’s the richest. So, what does she care?
    Was someone dissing beer? Pabst got a blue ribbon for a reason you know.

    Comment by Caitlin | August 24, 2007 | Reply

  20. jesus christ! this all sounds like a bunch of wining and complaining to me. is the novel dead? or is it just that YOUR novel hasn’t been published? or read?
    i come from a really big family and they never stop reading – and we’re a bunch of normal middle america semi-white trash. mysterys. political thrillers. westerns. social commentary. what have you. they don’t even pay any attention to each other. they are all reading constantly.
    now i don’t read fiction any more. give me jared diamond. give me jimmy carter. give me stephen hawking. give me a book on what art means. give me something that makes me see something.
    but i will get bored with that too. someday soon, give me a novel that actually interests me. one i can read and understand – at least enough to be intrigured.

    Comment by vince | August 25, 2007 | Reply

  21. frankly i no longer see a difference between fiction and anything else…i don’t see the news at night as anything but fiction, i don’t see history as anything but fiction, i don’t see “true life stories” as anything but fiction, and BIGGEST FICTION OF ALL: the stories we tell ourselves so that we can live with ourselves. ha. so bring it on. novels aren’t dead, they’re EVERYTHING. the whole crappy and beautiful world of experience is a novel.

    and the american chapter is the chapter on how economy and power themselves became characters in a story…

    americUH, fuck yeah…hahahahaha puppets and theme songs…

    Comment by lidiaohlidia | August 25, 2007 | Reply

  22. for fucks sake, you guys. remember that time, all those times, you were reading a book, reading a novel, and it wasn’t like anything else, you have the book in your hand, i mean a book with pages and sentences that you turn with your fingers with no one else there, reading a novel. ‘the economy’ is different from a novel. the tv news is different from a novel. the only thing that is like THE NOVEL is the novel. all things are NOT the same as each other. they’re NOT. that’s why we have different words for different things. it feels like all you guys are, like, afraid to admit, i mean, like, it’s like being in fourth grade and not admitting that, like, you like someone of the opposite sex, or something. you know? i love novels. they save my fucking life. there is nothing else like them. there is nothing else that does what they do. and they have been changing. i’ve read like sixty novels in the past three years. i’ve watched like nine hundred movies during the same period of time. i wish it was the other way around. movies are a hell of a lot easier though, usually.

    Comment by raphael | September 1, 2007 | Reply

  23. you know, not one of us has mentioned a single actual novel.

    Comment by raphael | September 1, 2007 | Reply

  24. “Nietzsche’s Kisses” Lance Olsen. Inspires thought. Puts a human face on a historical figure. Accessible yet challenging. Beauty/Truth.

    “Falling Man” Don DeLillo. In progress. Follow up to “White Noise” from a Lit class. Excerise’s the brain. Seems to have a painful beauty so far. Truth/Beauty.

    I haven’t taken the class which tells me what the official categories are. Eng 300? Do I need categories?

    Good books are like good sex. They don’t need a reason. Thank you Jesus, may I have another.

    Comment by Gene | October 9, 2007 | Reply

  25. Good books.

    The American novel.


    The first draft sitting on your hard drive waiting for you to quit hating yourself enough to look at it again. To finish it. To admit that nobody’s Shakespeare and just because you have no cock doesn’t mean you’re a shitty writer and the short stories you’re afraid to dive into deeper because they might tell the world too god damned much about you. The broken pieces you put together (length means novel, right? RIGHT?!?) because jigsaw puzzles makes more sense to you than oil paintings and everything should be a collage because nobody’s whole these days, we’re all just broken people pretending like everything’s okay until we collapse at the end of the fucking day and half hope we don’t wake up for the next one because. Just because. Because how can we keep pretending like there’s gonna be a happy ending? The end just means you died. Game over. No reset, no sequel. Fuck it, done.

    You could spout the history of the novel. Oh dear god the novel, how we love the novel, how it wasn’t always loved, how somebody said ‘hey, this is a cool idea’ and somebody else said -fuck no shit you can’t do that, that’s not right, that’s new that’s different that’s- ‘i suppose it’s a forgivable hobby for women to pursue.’

    The American novel. The story that we’re all waiting to write. That line, what is it? We’re all writers. Everyone’s a writer these days.

    And you wonder who’s actually writing, and who’s waiting for that perfect moment. Rainy day, you know? With a cup of coffee and you’ll sit down and that story you’ve been meaning to write will pour out of you like some poetic stream of piss.

    The American novel. Yeah.


    Wait, we talking publishing the fucking novel, or being fucked up enough to write it in the first place?

    Comment by Laura | October 16, 2007 | Reply

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