All Together Now
August 25, 2010 | by Thessaly La Force
Lorin has written more for Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog over at The Atlantic. I hope you'll read everything he's written so far, but I thought I'd take the time to mention today's entry. Here, Lorin addresses the death of the book review, and his very inspiring reasons for moving from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux to The Paris Review:
I left book publishing to edit The Paris Review because I think the situation can be dramatically improved. Not in the high-stakes game of bestsellers and Time covers, but down here on the ground, where reputations and markets are built and readers make up their own minds. I want there to be a magazine where fiction and poetry come first, where there's no hype, and where the aim is to reach the 100,000 people who, a few years ago, had never heard of Roberto Bolano—but whose lives have been slightly changed by his fiction.
I am one of those people. For what it's worth, I have also been one of the people who say they don't like stories or poems. It wasn't actually true in my case. (I suspect it's not true in general.) What annoys me is the idea that I should like a story or a poem, just because somebody took the trouble to write it. We are indeed competing for limited airspace. With apologies to Ezra Pound, a story or poem needs to be at least as involving as an expose by David Grann, as tough-minded as a comment by Hendrik Hertzberg. Which is to say, it must if possible be even better written.
Literary writing (or, if you prefer, imaginitive writing) has certain advantages of its own, none of them weakened one bit by technology. It can often be funnier than other kinds of prose. It can deal more humanly with sex. It can say shameful things about family life—not by treating them as scandals but, on the contrary, by showing that they're normal. More sins are confessed more deeply, through the screens of verse and make-believe, than you will ever find on a talk show or reality TV. Literature gives the best accounts of intimacy. Lena McFarland is right—you may not learn stuff you didn't know from a work of fiction. But there can be great comfort in seeing the troubles of daily life put into words of power and beauty.
And as David Foster Wallace observed, literature has a way of making you feel less alone. TV doesn't do that. It entertains and entertains, but there is a part of you it gives the silent treatment. In my experience, even the Web can you leave you feeling lonelier, once you turn off the computer. Fiction and poetry connect you, or they can, to something bigger and quieter and more lasting than the day you had at work. The question of posterity is fascinating. Some writers hope to live on, through their words, after death. Some write for the present day. Either way, they take us out of the moment and out of our smallest selves.