I never thought that there’d be a day in which my love affair with fiction would end, but in the past few years or so my relationship with genre has been dying a slow, blah death. My favorite books from the past year or so have exclusively been of the creative nonfiction variety - to name a few: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo; The Snakehead, by Patrick Radden Keefe; Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. The best book I’d ever been introduced to in a college course was The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer. I’m currently reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, a native Queens resident. It’s also great.
Having a Kindle makes it all too easy to fall under the sway of popular marketing for new fiction, and with a click I’ve purchased too many overrated works for the not-so-cheap price of $12.99. I know myself well enough to know that certain books (the ‘quiet desperation’ books, basically anything by FranzenCo about the oh-so-crippling ennui of millennial American suburbanites) will piss me off, but so many of them have been so genuinely disappointing that I often find myself questioning my own taste in literature. I jumped at the chance to read A Tiger’s Wife, an acclaimed novel about the Bosnian war by a 25-year old woman; I found it poorly structured and meh. I was equally excited for Super Sad True Love Story, which I alternately adored (as I think any Stuy alum would) and loathed; the latter for its inability to search past its own stereotypes for any deeper truths and the author’s tendency to float adrift in a sea of self-adoration. I also know that the books that I DO love aren’t universally loved either; The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao remains my favorite contemporary novel. I would read an Ikea manual for fun if Junot Diaz wrote it. Asides from Mr. Diaz, however, I’m a bit lost in trying to name a contemporary fiction writer that ignites my imagination and passion for writing.
I’m a huge proponent of nostalgia in general; I love old things, I think new glass condos dotting New York look like shit, I deactivated Facebook because of timeline, I don’t think anyone will ever write anything that even approaches Nabokov. But I do love Kindle and the Amazon, because it’s allowed me to read prolifically and discover all of the above about the evolution of my taste and my own horizons through nonfiction. (Dumb reason, but nonfiction books are usually enormous and I would never have room in my bag to carry them onto the train, where I do most of my reading.) I’ve always felt that criticism of Amazon had very little weight; I know that independent book shops are squeezed out, that Barnes and Nobles is dying, that physical bookstores no longer have a place in society. But I feel no sadness for this supposed loss; as an avid reader I can’t think of the last time I went to an independent book store and felt accepted into a community of some sort, instead, as a young woman in heels I’ve always felt ignored by the self-deigned true literary geniuses that take their craft of book-storing oh so seriously. I’ve been glared at for taking my time in reading excerpts of various books before deciding to buy them, for asking about the placement of a particular work. With my Kindle and with Amazon I deal with neither and am left to explore on my own terms. I think it’s ironic that part of the publishing industry’s defense against Amazon and co. lies with the fact that advancing populism in literature is somewhat akin to destroying the creativity of the industry, when the publishers that be (like the cable network heads that be, and media powers that be in general) have advanced homogenous works neatly placed and sold in separate categories. There’s the Pulitzer-Bait, written by the FrazenCo about their ‘universal’ quiet desperation experiences, the Ethnic Exotic (MY MOTHER WAS A CONCU-BINE), and the Chick-Lit (which honestly can be great, and it’s so insulting and misogynistic for enormously talented authors like Jennifer Weiner to be compartmentalized as not-to-be-taken-seriously). Ironic that this industry is rails against the forces of capitalism only when it begins to tip in Amazon’s favor. I love nostalgia, but when it comes to writing, the arts, and media; the “experiences” deemed as universal that are not really, and we are long overdue for some serious change.