First up today, two Telegraph bloggers thoroughly depress each other by considering the state of contemporary fiction, which is terrible, as always. Harry Mount and Michael Deacon shake their heads for a while about why we don't have a novelist who writes like Proust and sells like Dan Brown. You may or may not care about the plight of serious novelists who have been griping about public taste for centuries now, but Deacon points out the problem affects readers as well.
[W]hen I'm in Waterstone's I swiftly realise my choice is between a) the latest atrocity by whoever assaults the keyboard on behalf of Katie Price, or b) something clever, funny and moving that was published a fairly long time ago and is therefore probably not on Waterstone's shelves. So I go online or to a second-hand shop.
I can't remember the last time I found a worthwhile new release in Borders and Barnes & Noble. I know they're chains and I should be going to independent bookstores, but my success rate is only marginally better in those places.
The editors of Tin House believe that part of the problem with fiction these days has to do with aspiring writers who don't buy books. So from now until the end of the year the journal is requiring all submissions to be accompanied by a receipt for a book or magazine purchased at a bookstore. Don't have a receipt or can't afford to buy a book? Too bad. "Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer," the editors state.
If I were submitting something to Tin House, I think it would be witty to submit a receipt for the latest issue of AGNI, which contains Sarah Gorham's essay "On Selfishness." She reviews the history of selfishness, pointing out how women tend to be accused of it more than men. One highlight in the history of selfishness is Ambrose Bierce definition of selfish in his Devil’s Dictionary: “devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”
Another possibility is buying the latest issue of the Kenyon Review. There you will find work by the fiction writers Alice Hoffman and Zsófia Bán, along with the poet Susan Stewart, who contributes "Two Poems on the Name of Vermeer."
The Booker long list is always a good bet, even though Roald Dahl has described the typical Booker Prize novel as "beautifully boring." (The quote is from Mount and Deacon.) I've already purchased David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which, so far, doesn't strike me asbeing as beautiful as Cloud Atlas, but it's definitely not boring. I will buy Tom McCarthy's C when it becomes available in the US in September, even though McCarthy's novel doesn't address the current state of the technological sublime.
Tin House's buy before you try policy is well-meaning, but it ignores the riches that can be found in free online journals. In fact, now is a good time to read the latest issue of Triple Canopy, entitled "Unplaced Movements." The editors' introduction examines the "cycle of novelty and anachronism" that alternatives to traditional print journals have experienced. The editors discuss how they've been influenced by the great art journal Aspen (1965-1971). They also talk to Bob Stein, the founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book and host a panel discussion, "The Medium Was Tedium."
While the future of the written word is either exciting or depressing, depending on your point of view, the future of blueprints is positively grim, at least in the foreseeable future. That's the argument architect Jody Brown makes in his blog post, provocatively entitled "Hey Architects, we are all going to die!" He argues that architecture is never going to return to the go-go days before 2008. "How long can a project be on hold waiting on financing before we start to realize that it’s just not going to happen? How long are we going to wait for things to 'recover' so we can get back to doing things like we used to?" Be sure to read the comments section. Among those who chime in is Brown's mother (unless someone is joking, which is entirely possible), who writes, "Is this the time that I should say I am sorry that we did not let you get a degree in English."
Yes, that's how far architecture has fallen: it's now worse than literary studies.
At least English majors can amuse themselves by watching "Jane Austen's Fight Club" and fantasizing about becoming the writer who writes like Jane Austen and sells like Chuck Palahniuk.