Wednesday, August 13, 2008

the new novel

So those of you who read my Facebook news-feed know that I've accepted an offer to teach two writing courses at Boston University this fall, loosely themed around the topic of "The New Novel."

This is a topic I can have some fun with, obviously, and I quickly decided that a good course on the New Novel should endeavor to include the following things:

  • A more-or-less classically-structured novel, but which deals with topics that are distinctly "21st-century" in orientation. [Something like William Gibson's Pattern Recognition or Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis or Falling Man are the types of books that fit comfortably in this slot.]

  • Something that deals with similiar topics, but is more experimental or progressive in terms of its form. [Patrik Ourednik's Europeana might work well here, and I'm tempted to include something like Ben Marcus' Notable American Women or Leslie Scalapino's "trilogy" The Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion, but these are probably both slightly too ambitious for college freshmen.]

  • A hybrid text, something that is "novelistic" in orientation but clearly reacting to the pressures of "visual culture" / multimedia. [Steve Tomasula's VAS: An Opera In Flatland would be a blast to teach, but something like Lynda Barry's "illustrated novel" Cruddy or Zach Plague's brand-new boring boring boring boring boring boring boring could work equally well.]

  • Something "outside" the realm of the literary novel, preferably a graphic novel. [In a pinch I could use a piece of genre fiction, most likely SF or horror.]

I also am [typically] concerned with balance of representation, so I'd like to see at least one novel by a non-Caucasian writer and at least one novel by a non-North American writer, and I'd like the list to be fifty/fifty in terms of gender distribution.

The problem, sadly, is that I'm trying to limit myself to only four books (ultimately the course is a writing course and not a Lit survey), and trying to fit the four "types" that I want with the gender and ethnicity constraints that I set up is proving something of a diabolical logic puzzle. I'm pretty close to "locking in" on Gibson and Tomasula, white men both (sigh), which means that ideally I'll find a graphic novel and an experimental 21st-century novel, both written by women, at least one of whom is non-Caucasian.

Persepolis is holding a lot of appeal in the graphic-novel category, but its autobiographical status as a memoir might eliminate it from the running, and as far as I can tell, most crticially-acclaimed graphic novels by women tend to be memoirish. (See also: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.) Has anyone out there read Jessica Abel's La Perdida?

If I swap out the graphic novel for a genre novel, Octavia Butler is a potentially fruitful person to work with, although her only 21st-century novel is Fledgling, not generally considered her strongest work.

In terms of the experimental novel, I think Miranda Mellis' The Revisionist might hold some appeal, and its SF trappings might tie it well to the Gibson and Tomasula, but I haven't read it (a copy is winging its way to me as we speak).

You readers are good at this kind of thing. Recommendations?

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