paper trail

Tom Hanks, short-story writer; underprivileged Jennifer Weiner on privilege

At Poynter, Andrew Beaujon has posted an opinion piece about three journalism schools that have rescinded invitations to journalists due to fears of Ebola. After quoting the statements explaining the cancellations, Beaujon writes: “‘Caution,’ ‘questions,’ ‘sensitive’—these are all apparently synonyms for willful disregard for facts, which is a curious fit for journalism schools, institutions that purportedly train people how to report what they know.”After Margo Howard’s new book Eat, Drink, and Remarry received bad reviews from Amazon’s Vine Community, an “elite” group of reviewers who weigh in on books before their publication, the author accused the online critics of sabotage. The reviews were “all rotten,” she said at the New Republic. “I mean inaccurate, insulting, and demonstrably written by dim bulbs.” Now, Jennifer Weiner has weighed in. She empathizes (“I can feel Howard’s pain”), but also inveighs: “Everything from [Howard’s] name-dropping (both a MacArthur genius and a long-time Vanity Fair staff writer loved her book!) to her solution to the problem (it turns out that Howard knows two members of Amazon’s board of directors!) smacks of barely-examined privilege.”The total number of books in print in English reached twenty-eight million in 2013, as counted by tallying up ISBNs issued.The short story in this week's New Yorker is by Tom Hanks ("Alan Bean Plus Four"), and it's a comedy about space travel. (Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon.) "My mind went berserk when Ed White did his space walk," Hanks told fiction editor Deborah Treisman in an interview about the story. Tim Parks suggests that fiction no longer has the effect of protecting its writer—as readers we are too skilled, too "canny." "Reflecting on the disguising effects of a story," he writes, "on the way a certain set of preoccupations has been shifted from reality to fiction, has become, partly thanks to literary criticism and popular psychology, one of the main pleasures of reading certain authors."  The turn to autobiography and confessional writing has been one response to this mode of reading. Has fiction, then, outlived one of its main purposes? Parks thinks maybe: Perhaps writers will find it "increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical."