The Late American Novel

Wehave had no shortage of “death of the book” articles by journalists,critics, and publishing insiders. Storytellers, however, have been slower toweigh in. The Late American Novel:Writers on the Future of Books, edited by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee,helps redress this deficit.

The focus of the volume isa bit confused, however, as contributors conflate books with novels (a thousandhistories, textbooks, and guidebooks sigh) and writers with novelists (cuesighs from poets, journalists, screenwriters). The strongest essays focus onthe history of the book, the function of storytelling, and the process ofwriting with wi-fi.

John Brandon’s essay is asharp and funny request to continue neglecting the novella, and Reif Larson’s “TheCrying of Page 45” combines well-informed histories of the book with witand experimentation (his is the only entry that includes images). Others waxromantic on the smell and heft of physical books, while Victor LaValle’scharming homage to hardcovers ends with a warning against such nostalgia: “Thegreatest gift the electronic age could bestow upon the novel is to keep itsacred, not sacrosanct.”

Rudolph Delson, Nancy JoSales, Garth Risk Hallberg, Ander Monson, and Benjamin Kunkel smartly threadthe books/novels/writing needle, ruminating on the reduced distance betweenauthors and readers, the emphatic function of fiction, and the participatorypromise of ebooks. By the end of the slim volume, readers may be ready to sidewith Monson, who writes: “Time to shut up and get to the making, get backto that sense of play where everything interesting, including the future,finally fast and soon to be here, starts.”