I can’t ever seem to get on board with the hot new young writers selected by our literary/critical/blogosphere group mind. I haven’t gotten into Joseph O’Neill, or Marisha Pessl, or Junot Diaz, or Tower Wells, or Joshua Ferris. Is it my fault? Am I carrying too many prejudices with me, or not trying hard enough? Mark Sarvas recently seconded some comments Joshua Ferris made about readers or reviewers who don’t like his latest work. Ferris said:
… they don’t allow the book’s rules to establish themselves before applying their own aesthetic criteria to it which I think is a mistake. I think a careful and adult reader allows the book to establish its world and then evaluates it on how well it does so.
But, really, the reaction that takes place when a qualified reader or reviewer picks up a new book is more about taste and instinct than about “applying aesthetic criteria”. I don’t know exactly how this happens, but my body tends to react more quickly than my mind when I attempt to discover a new writer. Reading a book’s first page feels to me like licking the spoon of a meal I may or may not eat. Aesthetic criteria? Well, really what happens is that I like it or I don’t. For me, all too often lately, that first lick fails to please.
But I don’t want to be a literary curmudgeon, so I’m glad this weekend’s New York Times Book Review presents some young new writers I haven’t sampled yet and, based on the evidence here, may actually like. I’ve run into 27-year-old Justin Taylor’s name at a rather fun literary blog called HTML Giant. He also seems to have good taste in music, and I’m excited to see a rave writeup by Todd Pruzan for his Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever.
A couple of pages over, Adam Massbach is very impressed by a young postmodernist named Zachary Mason who seems to have pulled off some kind of Danger Mouse remix of Homer’s Odyssey. I don’t know if The Lost Books of the Odyssey will turn out to be the kind of book I love to read or merely the kind of book I love to read about. But even a book I love to read about is worth something.
Then, Liesl Schillinger puts Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett on my must-try list. This novel attempts to deal with the humanity behind the greedy financial conglomerates (the “Union Atlantic” of the title is a bank) that recently crashed our economy, and apparently succeeds. This is intriguing:
The actors in this extroverted drama are closeted (or not-so-closeted) introverts. The screen of their surface behavior hides their obsessions and hopes, as well as their shame — just as the balance sheet of a shady debt bundle can appear spruce and clear while concealing a thicket of machinations.
I guess it’s time to pull out the spoon again. As always, I’ll be sure to fill you in on the results of the taste test once it occurs.