Earlier this year, Salon‘s J. Robert Lennon cried that “contemporary fiction is terrible.” Just a year before him, Ted Genoways bemoaned the death of fiction in Mother Jones. Non-fiction is no stranger to this wave of criticism either. People have been mourning the so-called death of the book for at least the last decade.
There’s no question that the publishing industry is suffering. With the expansion of free media (like this article you’re reading), magazine sales have suffered a sharp decline. Newspapers will probably go extinct in this decade. But what about the book? Is there any credence to Genoways’ and Lennon’s derision of contemporary fiction? Should we believe The Guardian when they say no one’s reading books anymore and not only because of new technology like the Kindle and the iPad, but because books–fiction and non-fiction alike–have just gotten really, really bad?
After taking a look at some recently published works, we’re a little bit more optimistic for the life of the book.
Here are five books that have been published in the last ten months that prove the book is still alive, kicking and anything but boring:
1. Dealers by Peter Madsen
Peter Madsen is the mastermind behind the too addictive Word on the Street New York, a collection of over 250 street interviews Madsen did as a bike courier from 2009 to 2012. Dealers, following in this vein, is sixteen anonymous interviews with New York drug dealers. Speaking to a wide host of subjects–like the concierge of a luxury building who has connections for “everything”–and traversing everywhere from grimy Bushwick messenger bars to Park Avenue penthouses, Madsen chronicles one of New York’s best kept and most widely kept secret.
2. Taipei by Tao Lin
Tao Lin has been described as “the epitome of the hipster young American” and something of a Bukowski of the Internet Age elsewhere. No matter how you feel about him, at least one thing is undeniable: he’s dominating contemporary fiction right now, especially for the under 30 crowd. His latest book, called a “modernist masterpiece” by The New York Times and The Observer, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about Paul, who moves from the “most bourgeois place on the planet” (Brooklyn) to his parents’ home in Taiwan. It takes about two afternoons to read and is one of the rawest, most accurate descriptions of this generation’s malaise out there.
3. what purpose did i serve in your life by Marie Calloway
Marie Calloway took the Internet by storm with her essay Adrien Brody, a graphic account of her sexual escapade with a New York intellectual (whose real identity everyone was able to figure out but us, apparently). what purpose did i serve in your life is a titillating collection of essays that hits at some of the hardest parts of what it means to be a sexually active woman. This is a book that you will read in one sitting. Also, there are pictures.
4. Hill William by Scott McClanahan
Hill William is Scott McClanahan’s peak into West Virginia. It’s a place you rarely get to read about in fiction and one that usually conjures up images of Deliverance. Hill William, while it won’t spare you that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes you want to read about West Virginia in the first place, offers us an emotionally charged adventure, exposing to us those parts of humanity we rarely think about or are too afraid to.
5. Rontel by Sam Pink
Sam Pink is somebody we’d want to hang out with. Rontel, his 96 page odyssey, is a coming-of-age-story about a listless Chicagoan. He attempts to go to his last day of work. He gets threatened by a homeless man. He considers stealing a bag of chips. Riding the line of depressing and hilarious, it’s one of those books you won’t be able to put down until you get to the end.
Here are 2 honorable mentions that didn’t make the list.