Is fiction getting dumber?


This is essentially the question the NY Times posed to a number of contemporary authors earlier this summer–as the season of so-called escapist or guilty pleasure reading began. In the Times‘  “Room for Debate” online section, Jane Smiley and five other writers address whether or not fiction is changing, and if so, is it for better or worse.

My observation is that we have an extraordinary roster of very competent  fiction writers in North America–more so than when I was growing up. Plus, over the past couple of decades, we have been fortunate to have access to writers from more distant cultures–certainly in South America, and increasingly we are hearing from Africa and Asia. But back to the explosion of competent writers emerging from graduate programs across the country: are there truly great literary voices among them?

And, getting back to what most people read when they read, here’s the latest  from the NY Times bestselling lists, combining print and e-book.

What do you think about the quality of 21st century fiction? Are there any living authors who you think are worthy of joining the pantheon of iconic writers of yore? (Just wanted to use that word…it’s old, y’know.)

  1. Ivan Doig…amazing writer.
    When I lived in Colorado (prior to Canton), I discovered many amazing writers from the American west. Still don’t hear too much about many of them. Some have become nationally known: Louise Erdrich, Wallace Stegner, Gretel Erdrich, Linda Hasselstrom…to name a few.
    N.Y. Times best sellers list: just shows what sells…not what is good or well-written.
    Russell Banks latest was excellent yet dealt with a challenging, controversial topic.
    But yes, I think there are many iconic writers today.

  2. First string:
    David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
    Richard Ford – still haven’t read the new one, but always a go-to
    Jonathan Franzen – yes, even him
    Alice Munro – short stories, but she’s incomparable

    Second string:
    Zadie Smith – not my fave, but quite good
    Michael Chabon – he hasn’t written his best book yet
    Ian McEwan – fun to read, a little over-the-top

    And I don’t even keep up with the latest hardcovers!