The End of Literary Studies? By Steven G. Kellman

Today, the president of the United States does not read books, and even many English majors do not know the difference between Keats and Yeats. Though books abound, a cynic might conclude that writers outnumber readers. The academic study of literature is in crisis.
Departments of literature in American universities are often underfunded, understaffed, and demoralized. Concentrations in French, German, Russian, and other languages have been terminated, and many of those that remain have trimmed their offerings in literature. In a recent article in The Chronicle („Facing My Own Extinction”), Nina Handler reports that her institution, Holy Names University, is even eliminating the English major.


In Praise of Unfinished Novels 

By Grant Shreve
Some novels left unfinished by authorial death are also haunted by mortality, which makes their unfinishedness feel more fitting. Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, about a group of hypochondriacs languishing at an English health resort, is such a novel. Its obsession with illness infects the narrative, enervating the central courtship plot. According to the critic D.A. Miller, the novel’s prose is similarly depleted, which led him to quip that Sanditon is the sole Austen novel to feature a death, that of the author as inimitable stylist.


Is My Novel Offensive? By Katy Waldman

When Becky Albertalli published her first young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, with the HarperCollins imprint Balzer and Bray in 2015, she never expected it to be controversial. She’d worked for years as a clinical psychologist specializing in gender nonconforming children and LGBTQ teens and adults.* Yet her book—about a closeted gay kid whose love notes to a classmate fall into the wrong hands—contained a moment that rubbed readers the wrong way: Simon, the sweet but clueless protagonist, muses that girls have an easier time coming out than boys, because their lesbianism strikes others as alluring. At a book signing, several people approached Albertalli to complain that the scene played too readily into a narrative they’d heard many times before. Online, commenters condemned the “fetishization of queer girls” in the book as “offensive.” Albertalli hadn’t originally given the passage a second thought: the character was obviously unworldly; elsewhere, he asserts that all Jews come from Israel. But in the latter exchange, readers pointed out, Simon’s Jewish friend immediately corrects him. The lesbian line, a snippet from the narrator’s interior monologue, receives no such rebuttal.


Lie to Me: Fiction in the Post-Truth Era By

American novelists have long complained about the ability of real life to outstrip fiction. In his landmark 1961 essay “Writing American Fiction,” Philip Roth observed that “actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.” The figure Roth cites is Charles Van Doren, of quiz-show scandal fame; but place Mr. Van Doren next to Donald J. Trump, and you can measure the change in the nature of credibility over the past half-century.

Mr. Van Doren was disgraced when it was revealed that he had been given the answers to the questions on the game show “Twenty-One,” a contest that television viewers believed was real, not staged. Today an entire flourishing genre of television goes by the name “reality,” yet no one who watches it thinks it is genuinely real — that is, unplanned and unedited. Artificiality is what makes reality television enjoyable, even though these same shows, if advertised as fiction, would appear banal, repetitive and undramatic. Reality is the ingredient that turns a bad fiction into an enthralling one.