As readers may be aware, Obooki doesn’t have much time for contemporary English literature; he doesn’t have a good word to say about it. But perhaps, too, it’s crossed your mind (as it has Obooki’s) that this is just prejudice; for what recent books, after all, has he read? Perhaps many of these highly-praised works he’s heard about – works which simply everyone is reading – really are the masterpieces they are claimed to be; – perhaps they do indeed demand to be read and re-read.
So, to challenge preconceptions, we have Obooki’s Sexennial Survey of the Literary Scene. This is how it works: I find the cheapest charity shop I can; there I buy ten or so examples of the very best in contemporary literature (for these books are so good, people are always spreading the word by passing them on to other people through charity shops); these I take home and for each book I read the first 50 pages; if I find no merit in the book at that point, I lay it aside and start on the next one; if I am enjoying it, I am quite entitled to continue on to the end; then at the end I give all the books back to another charity shop.
That I’m going to like any of these books is of course highly unlikely. I’m certainly not coming into this project with an open mind. But even in my purblind state, I’m still capable, I like to think, of some discernment. In the last version of this, six years ago, I did finish one book. Here are the writers from that project:
- Tibor Fischer
- Jeannette Winterson
- Magnus Mills
- Kate Atkinson
- Don DeLillo
- Sebastian Faulks
- John Banville
- Ali Smith
- Julie Myerson
(Yes, another useful side-effect of this project, is that it will supply me with another six years’ worth of Aunt Sallies, with which to beat contemporary literature).
(It’s true, in between then and now, I’ve read the odd book in the same manner – out of competition as it were: Tom McCarthy, Lee Rourke and Philip Roth come to mind – all with a similar result).
So, any recommendations? – Remember, we are looking for much-heralded masterpieces which there’s little chance I’ll like. – Oh, I don’t know, something like Jonathan Frantzen’s The Corrections. – I believe I still have something by Safran Foer left over from the last edition. And probably I can already throw in Steven Hall.
I think the reason it’s taken me six years to get back round to this is that, amusing as all this sounds, none of it fills me with any pleasure. It’s a chore I feel I need to go through so I can maintain the opinions I maintain; – so I can’t be accused of being, for instance, one of these complacent bloggers who disparages everything apart from Beckett, Blanchot and Kafka, when it transpires those are the only three authors I’ve read.
Oh yes, August – that’s when I’m doing this.
(This list from The Millions provides some good ideas – though with an American-bias, while I’d rather wanted an English one; the writers I’ve read on it certainly have to a man failed to impress – and it reminds me I’ve also got The Road somewhere).