new writers

Last night I was reading Larry McMurtry’s Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, part essay on reading, part memoir of frontier life in west Texas, and McMurtry made a thought-provoking statement about reading. He talks about how reading itself is a great adventure and the most adventurous readers will seek out the newest and freshest writers, explore the reading frontier, if you will. The best readers, he argued, are leaders, not followers.

But, what constitutes a new writer?  In the past few years I’ve  "discovered" writers new to me, Denis Johnson, for instance, or Jim Harrison, or recently Texans such as Bud Shrake. Recently, I "discovered" Francine Prose. I had read Prose’s journalism in Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly and had assumed she was perhaps of my generation, but, she’s been publishing novels and stories and writing since at least the early 80s and possibly the late 70s. I’ve loved her essays, especially on reading and I’m looking forward to reading her upcoming book on reading (which I’ve preordered on Amazon). I picked up her novel Blue Angel, read it, and was delighted by it. I recently read her novella collection Guided Tours of Hell and was deligted and enthralled by that. I want to read more and discover more of Prose’s work. She’s hardly a new writer, but reading her is refreshing and enlightening.

Technically, I suppose, a true new writer that I’ve discovered was Wesley Stace, whose first novel Misfortune, I picked up last year at the Texas Book Festival. I bought the book after hearing Stace read. It’s set in the 18th century, is written somewhat in the style of the 18th century, with a lot of narrative summary, violating most of the dictates of the show don’t tell axiom, and yet is an excellent read. There is a lot of genderbending in the book.

I’ve discovered several new writers at the book festival in the past. Another book I picked up after hearing its author speak at the book festival was Bookmark Now! by Kevin Smokler, on reading and the affect of technology on people’s reading of serious fiction.

Have you picked up "new" writers lately?


3 thoughts on “new writers

  1. I’m not sure I agree with the claim that the most adventurous readers read the newest authors. Why can’t I be an adventurous reader of Shakespeare, if I’m willing to read him in a fresh way? But I’m not much of a reader of new writers, so I’m biased against the idea to begin with. I guess I’m a follower. But I like to know something about books I pick up, so I don’t spend my time on something I won’t like. It’s probably not the best attitude.

  2. Thank you for the comment. Actually, we need as many adventurous readers of Shakespeare as we do of the next up-and-comer new thing. A lot of my recent “discoveries” came from suggestions from friends or reading about them. So this must make me a follower too. Especially now since I’m reading a lot of books off Jane Smiley’s 100 novels list in her “13 Ways to Look at the Novel,” a wonderful book btw.

  3. Last year I discovered Balzac. Rumor has it his work has been around for a while, but he was a new writer for me, and quite an adventure.

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