I am, admittedly, one of those fairly typical novel readers who gravitates toward the “classics”—a two-syllable synonym for “old books by dead people.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: given that a novel asks so much more of a person than a TV show, film, or video game, I like knowing that the book I’m about to plunge into has a proven history of not letting readers down.
Lately I’m reevaluating this tendency of mine. After reading Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist and Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I’ve become much more interested in reading contemporary novels. There must certainly be a lot of great stuff being written by a lot of talented authors, and I’d like to give it more attention. I’m just not sure of the best place to go looking for it.
I ended up reading Nathaniel P. because I happened to glance at Slate last summer and found a couple of reviews and thoughtpieces that aroused my interest. And I discovered the The Antagonist on a “new fiction” shelf during a trip to the library, and I borrowed it because Nathaniel P. was already signed out. I’m not sure that relying on serendipity is the most efficient way of seeking out interesting new novels.
And it does seem as though they must be sought out. Print fiction is in the somewhat ironic position of not getting much press lately. Think: how often do you see ads for novels, as compared to other media?
Want to know what to watch on TV or see in the theater? You probably already know: ads, previews, and reviews of the new television (or Netflix) series and theater releases are ubiquitous in any medium. There are more professional and amateur critics are writing film and TV reviews with much greater volubility than book critics writing book reviews.
Searching for some new music to listen to? Doubtless you’re already finding it on Pandora or Spotify, or reading about it on <em>Pitchfork.</em> There’s even a slim chance you might actually be finding interesting new artists on the radio or TV. At any rate, music is easy to find.
Looking for a new video game? If you’re not already finding it in one of the 4,434 GameStop or EB Games locations in the United States (as opposed to the 250 Books-A-Million and 696 Barnes and Noble locations), or consulting one or a dozen of the innumerable game review sites (or comic strips) on the internet, the Steam catalog, PlayStation Store, and Xbox Marketplace are each only a few clicks away.
But we digress. Back to the original question.
If your reading diet includes fresh, recently-written novels, how do you most often choose (or discover) the next book on your list? Do you visit the library? Are you an active user of Goodreads or LibraryThing? Do you follow Amazon’s recommendations? Do you keep track of book review blogs? Do you forego all this and simply exchange books and recommendations with friends? Post a comment below and let us know! (And if there are any books written in the last five years that you think deserve your peers’ attention, do please name them!)