Sunday, January 11, 2015

The New New

Every year, the new...

Every year, the new you - and every year the new, new. Art doesn't come popping out of an egg, its gestation period can be much longer or a one night stand that comes to live nine months later.

The media is eager to tell you about the new new. Each year again as if its an epoch. Fine and dandy, but so manufactured is this now, that I imagine if anything really new came out of it, then it would not even be on the radar. It takes time after all. The old new or new old is just as enticing - so good to see Manchester author Chris Killen, back with his sophomore novel "In Real Life" featured here in the Guardian. His debut came out in 2010, so an age ago in modern media terms, but in art terms, not so long. (My own poetry pamphlet, shorter than his debut novel, was published then as well, anyone interested in a follow up?). Another friend and Manchester-based author, Sarah Butler, will have her second novel out this year as well - yes, yes, we all know each other a little bit, its a small town!

But the new, new continues unabated and the Observer's taken to running round the publishing houses asking which books they are hyping (sorry, which good new authors have works coming out) in the new year. Obviously they're looking for this year's "The Miniaturist", but of course, these books would have all been signed up long before Jessie Burton's bestseller had hit the shops. It's a long list, and there's some interesting books, even if there was something a tad depressing about reading the first five "best new authors" were respectively, an award-winning comedy writer, John Le Carre's granddaughter, a journalist, a literary agent and a "multi-talented musician/academic" - the slushpile this aint! Anyway, there will be good books on this list, and good writers who come out of it. So take your pick.

Also in this week's Observer was an interview with a previous literary overnight sensation, Alex Garland, who has just directed his first film.  There are few more zeitgeist-y writers than the author of "The Beach", but its interesting that after that first novel was filmed, how the collaborative nature of that genre appealed to him far more than being a career novelist. Not a unique trajectory its true, but fascinating nonetheless.

Maybe it was going to see the Warhol show this week at Liverpool Tate, but it does seem on the one hand "everyone is an artist" but on the other, there are fewer writers that I really find myself interested in. It's not even the split between a mainstream and avant garde, or between commercial and literary fiction; it seems that we're in an age of over-abundant creativity on the one hand, and, on the other very little that stands out. For writers, its not just a hip subject or treatment, of course, but the writing itself, which was why "A Girl is a half formed thing" or "A Visit from the Goon Squad" have been standout books from the last few years.

I've had a chance to catch up with a few things online this week - a fascinating article on a new "portable" David Foster Wallace - I've always liked "collected" or "selected" editions and wish more contemporary authors were available in such a pick 'n' mix fashion, so I might get hold of it even though I've most of the stuff already. Though at nearly a thousand pages, its quite a hefty introduction - perhaps its meant to be the other bookend to "Infinite Jest"! Of equal interest, given world enough and time, I'd like to read this new biography of James Laughlin, the rich founder of avant garde publishers "New Directions." Here we have the publisher as auteur, not only creating a list that chimed with his own tastes, but developing a market for those tastes that created, to a large extent, an alternative canon. There's not a single press that you might go to these days for a similar nurturing role (and New Directions published short stories and poetry as well as longer works, which seems to me essential if you're going to take the literary pulse of the times), though Melville House, Copper Canyon and others are doing a fine job. The old joke about "how to make a small fortune in publishing - start with a large fortune" may mean that the rich gentleman publisher is a thing of the past; but the publishing industry keeps on going - and has even, by some accounts - seen off the e-book.

Tomorrow night, the first prize giving of the year takes place, with the solid T.S. Eliot's taking place in London. Eliot died 50 years ago this year and there's a new biography coming out to celebrate this - which again was extracted in the Guardian this weekend. "Once a subversive outsider, he became the most celebrated poet of the 20th century – a world poet, who changed the way we think", as the Guardian's sub-editor has it. There's not much subversion in the T.S. Eliot prize, unfortunately, which takes the venerable British Anglican poet, rather than the young American firebrand as its model - but that's British letters for you, a somewhat different mix of art and commerce than elsewhere in the world.

Locally, things should start up again in the next week or so - but as I'm not heading to any literary events this week I'll leave a round-up till the next time. The new new will be somewhat old hat by then, all being well.

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