paper trail

Literary fiction on the wane?

Rupi Kaur

A new report issued by Arts Council England reveals that sales of books considered to be “literary fiction” have dropped dramatically over the past five years, making it even harder to get by financially as a writer. The report attributes the drop in sales to the recession, smartphones, and the popularity of genre e-books. According to novelist Will Self, himself condiered a literary novelist (his latest book is Phone): “Literary fiction is already being subsidised—think of all of the writers who are continuing to make a living now by teaching creative writing. They represent a change taking place in literature … It’s now more like quilting.” 

Carl Wilson (author of Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste) ponders the unlikely category of “best-selling poet” in an article about twenty-five-year-old Canadian author Rupi Kaur, whose first book of verse (Milk and Honey) has sold two and a half million copies, whose new book (The Sun and Her Flowers) is on the bestseller list, and who has 1.8 million Instagram followers. “Kaur’s work is often called 'greeting-card verse,' but it would be a mistake to reduce her . . . to that. Kaur writes movingly about immigration, domestic violence, sexual assault and other substantial subjects, though she follows quickly with self-empowerment affirmations to alleviate the sting.”

Kathy Lally, who twenty years ago was a Moscow correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, recalls the tabloid The eXile, an English-language tabloid published in Russia, which was run by the Americans Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi (author of Griftopia and, most recently, I Can’t Breathe). Taibbi has been criticized for his work at the paper, which Lally calls “juvenile, stunt-obsessed and pornographic, titillating for high school boys.” Lally is now telling her own story of her experiences with the publication after she criticized it online, and how Taibbi and Ames set out to ridicule and humiliate her in their memoir The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia.

Novelist Hilary Mantel talks about what she’s reading, what book had the greatest effect on her, and an author she doesn’t enjoy. That would be Dickens: “There are whole swaths of Charles Dickens that I barely attempt. It just seems such awful stuff—coarse, sentimental, conceited.”

Susan Straight, the author of the novel Highwire Moon, read more than 500 novels this year, many of them about particular regions of the US, to create what she calls an “epic interactive map of our literary nation.” But, she writes, the best book she read this year was not a novel and not set in North America. It was the memoir The Book of Emma Reyes, set in Colombia.