Author Archives: Mike

America’s Ten Favorite Books are Better Than You Expected

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Among the embarrassing surveys of how few Americans can find Ukraine on a map and/or the dismal polls of people who believe the Senate should be controlled by Republicans, this week saw the release of a cultural indicator that actually bears good news.

Tuesday, Harris Interactive published the results of a poll asking Americans which books they love most. The survey — which last ran in 2008 — revealed that The Bible, by God, was America’s favorite. No surprises there, as other studies have clearly shown that Americans largely identify as Christian. The good book maintained the #1 spot it held in 2008, while Gone With the Wind also kept its ranking, coming in again at #2. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter collections (each counted as one book, which is not altogether sporting, if you ask me) traded positions in the #3 and #4 spots, with Potter taking higher honors this year. Other books that appeared on the 2008 list did not fare as well — which is actually the best part. A number of blockbuster novels on the previous list were replaced by a handful of American classics.

Perhaps most interesting is the way the changes from ’08 to now sync up oddly well with the typical evolution of many American readers.

In 2008 we read like eager young adolescents, just starting to take on “big” books (as in 300+ pages, ostensibly written for adults) and devouring anything that caught our interest. This explains our 2008 affinity for Stephen King’s The Stand (#5); the Dan Brown books (Da Vinci Code #6 and Angels and Demons #8); and of course, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a hallmark of enthusiastic youngsters and Congressional staffers discovering the nascent thrill of thinking that they are thinking for themselves.

In 2014, we stepped up our game. We are now reading like older, slightly more sophisticated adolescents.  The Stand has been displaced by To Kill a Mockingbird in the #5 spot, followed by #6 Moby Dick, #7 The Catcher in the Rye, #8 Little Women, #9 The Grapes of Wrath and #10 The Great Gatsby.

This trend indicates that, in the last six years, our nation must have felt the influence of a really important English or Drama teacher, someone who helped us figure out a lot of stuff we were going through recently and who we’re never going to forget. If the trend holds, we should all be getting into experimental fiction and Annie Dillard by 2020.

Whatever the case may be, we should all just be happy that Atlas Shrugged has fallen off the list. For those of you who think that’s bad, well, the last poll was taken in 2008. You know whose fault this is: 

- Michael Moats

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A Light Breeze of Winter

TheWindsofWinter

So maybe this week was not the best week to talk smack about fantasy novels being serialized online.

Yesterday, George R.R. Martin released a chapter of the next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series (or the Game of Thrones books, if you’re not being a jerk about it). The next book, The Winds of Winter, is due out God-knows-when, but for now, stop working and read this chapter, titled “Mercy.” Heads up: You should probably be ready for any spoilers it might contain. This is your official warning.

Finally, it looks like winter is coming — in a good way. Hopefully it won’t take too long.

For now, we’re re-posting this important message:

- Michael Moats

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Technology is Making Poetry Awesome Again

Despite what Wattpad is doing to the novel, a new program called RapPad has given everyone an excuse to read poetry.

RapPad was designed to help aspiring rappers write the hottest computer generated rhymes. Over at Mental Floss, linguist Arika Okrent recently used the “Generate Line” function to combine famous opening lines with existing rap lyrics. For example:  Continue reading

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Technology is Destroying the Novel Again

AR

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece about a storytelling app called Wattpad and the growing popularity of online, serialized novels. The lead example is a work called After that has built an audience of one million readers for its frequent installments — which are read on smart phones.

As a blog and a so-called “micro press,” we at Fiction Advocate are not automatically averse to new ways of advocating for fiction. And yet, all of us here are also notoriously over 30, and can remember when books were only read on paper. For us, 2014 is most notable as the 20th anniversary of The Western Canon (as the Times also pointed out this weekend). Thus, we tend to react to things like Wattpad with mild terror and stern disapproval.  

But rather than putting on my angry Andy Rooney eyebrows and harrumphing, I’ll just let the evidence speak for itself. Here are a few key sections from the Times story:

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena?

FA Luminaries FA review tag

According to a seemingly sensible blog on astrology, Eleanor Catton was a shoe-in to win the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her second novel The Luminaries. Born in late September 1985 when the “Sun is conjunct Mercury in Libra,” Catton’s “destiny indicator” should have tipped off those making wagers at Ladbrokes that her “destiny based on prior life talents was about to blossom.”

It’s quite amazing when you think about it. Catton was born in 1985! And this is her second novel! The astrology stuff is pretty interesting too.

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Fiction Advocate of the Day: Google

Steinbeck

Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 112th birthday of John Steinbeck.  And while it passes over what is arguably his greatest work, East of Eden, it is still pretty wonderful.

Happy birthday John Steinbeck.

And while I’m at it, happy birthday to my sister and fellow East of Eden fan Samantha Moats, who continues to remind me of something Steinbeck wrote: “I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”

- Michael Moats

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Master’s Bait

CT Writers Room

If you were debating whether or not to take that loan to get your Master’s degree in creative writing, the New York Times T Magazine has just the thing to send you running to the closest available co-signer.

In their most recent issue, T features famous writers in the spaces where they workWitness Colson Whitehead casually sipping from his mug among his brilliant clutter. Observe Mona Simpson, red-lining stories on a reclaimed wood kitchen table in what appears to be a Williams Sonoma catalog shoot. Ponder whether Joyce Carol Oates has more published books, or more pictures of her own face in her office.

JCO

These are the idyllic lands of sagging shelves, sloped ceilings and soft light through the window. The kinds of rooms that most writers wish they were actually heading to when they go to whatever restaurant or cubicle where they spend their money-making time.  Whitehead says that even having a great room isn’t enough, and he moves his desk around wondering “Where’s the mojo these days? What room, what corner? How about by the window, one story above the street?” I did most of my best writing so far in a near-frozen storage space/extra bedroom facing a filthy Washington, DC alleyway — a view that didn’t matter because the sun was rarely up yet, and the dust-grimed blinds were always down. But I wrote some things there that I still find appealing.  

If you have a great place where you get your writing done, send it to us. We’ll put you on the internet.

- Michael Moats

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Great Moments from the Sunday Book Review: Bad Book Reviews

FA BuzzFeed_Badges

I can’t explain precisely why a sentence like “His eyes were as black as night” should feel like an insult, but it does.

In this particular line from this week’s Bookends column written alongside Zoe Heller, Francine Prose encapsulates the value of negative book reviews.

The debate as to whether we need negative book reviews has been raging (as much as any debate about book reviews “rages”) for a few weeks now. Prose and Heller agree that bad book reviews can be a good thing. They’re right, though Heller is a little rough on Isaac Fitzgerald, who has publicly refused to run negative reviews in his new role as books editor for Buzzfeed. Fitzgerald’s decision, and the justification he has given for it, do reek of the earnest positivism in which everything we read online these days should be worthy of upping, but it is not out of range for Buzzfeed. That, and it has a concurrent justification in terms of sheer utility: When someone is choosing between a Buzzfeed book review or one of the 87 other things you can read on any given Buzzfeed page — including, presumably, a post titled 87 Things You Can Read Instead of a Negative Book Review — why ask them to endure a downer?

All that said, I stand firmly with Prose and Heller. I enjoy reading authors who can deliver a deserving takedown, and on occasion I like writing one myself. Granted, the fun pales in comparison to the impatient joy I get when hearing that I absolutely must read a certain book. But having been through an MFA writing program, I recognize bad book reviews as one of the last defenses against novels that are simply recognized for having “strong dialogue” or “an opening line that really hooks readers.”

At any rate, it is refreshing to hear a full-throated defense of high standards. In a world where we accept that The Learning Channel can run “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” the right amount of negativity and rejection can be deeply affirming.

Read the full Bookends column.

- Michael Moats

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