Monday, June 7, 2010

20 Under 40

Today in their double-fiction issue the New Yorker released a list of "20 Writers Under 40", writers who bear keeping an eye on and who weren't born before 1970 (although the New York Times with hilarious bitchiness released the list before the New Yorker even hit the stands). Reaction around the interwebs, even from book trade people, has mostly been "Erm, who?" The analysis of one commenter on HTML giant has been kinda typical, putting bluntly what most of the other bloggers only hint at:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32 (never heard of)
Chris Adrian, 39; (never heard of)
Daniel Alarcón, 33; (never heard of)
David Bezmozgis, 37; (Natasha was pretty good)
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38; (never heard of)
Joshua Ferris, 35; (tried reading but got interrupted)
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33; (what a surprise!)
Nell Freudenberger, 35; (never heard of)
Rivka Galchen, 34; (never heard of)
Nicole Krauss, 35; (boring)
Yiyun Li, 37; (never heard of)
Dinaw Mengestu, 31; (never heard of)
Philipp Meyer, 36; (never heard of)
C. E. Morgan, 33; (never heard of)
Téa Obreht, 24; (never heard of)
Z Z Packer, 37; (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere or something?)
Karen Russell, 28; (never heard of)
Salvatore Scibona, 35; (never heard of)
Gary Shteyngart, 37; (I’ve heard of and I like this guy)
Wells Tower, 37. (I liked the Leopard story a lot. Plus, he’s the first writer I’ve read to start off a line of dialogue with, “Fuckin’, what about the…” I start many of my spoken sentences with this and he nailed it.)
Other comments range from "too short, too Ivy League" (well duh, it's the New Yorker) to saying the list was an "anti-intellectual (i.e., stupid) concept" (well duh, it's the New Yorker).

Lots of people have complained about the obscurity of most of the list, and the fact that the youngest writer, 24-year-old Téa Obreht, hasn't even published a book yet (although she does have one coming out next year?), while at the same time calling the New Yorker's last stab at such a list ten years ago "eerily prescient". Now, I love to hate on the New Yorker and its fiction section as much as the next guy, possibly even more, but isn't the obscurity the point of this list? If everyone already knew these people, there wouldn't be much point in the list, except to enable a lot of self-congratulation? Don't get me wrong, my conflict in taste with most of the New Yorker fiction crowd almost certainly means I'm not going to seek any of these guys out, except maybe Adichie--I'm constantly hunting for interesting African writers. But I'm going to bet that as tastemakers for this sort of thing, they're probably not far wrong, and ten years from now bitchy literary types will sit around tables in Park Slope bars loudly complaining about the mega-success of wunderkind Téa Obreht and her newest opus, while Jonathan Safran Foer will be considered a dean of American letters. It's the circle of life.

Oh, and speaking of betting! The Griffin Prize winners were announced. The Canadian poet who walked away with a barrel of cash is Karen Solie. And the winner of the international prize ... Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin! Who was my longshot pick. Now I'm wishing I really had put money on it.

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