Recently, in the fine media tradition of griping about how sick everybody is of talking about something—and thereby talking about it more—I read a tweet that quipped, “Can we stop talking about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 already?”

The answer is no.

No, Virginia, we cannot stop talking about—or making—lists.You see, we are addicted to them.The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” being something of the smartypants equivalent of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” contest, the book industry has been ablaze with debate ever since it aired.Among the best responses was Steve Almond’s on The Rumpus.Then, even more promisingly, I—along with roughly 50 other publishing professionals (agents, publishers, bloggers)—received an email from Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett at Dzanc Books, asking that we contribute to the creation of an “alternative” list: one that would be sensitive to the existence of independent presses and their writers, who had not surprisingly been utterly ignored by the New Yorker’s list.

This seemed a great idea to me at the time, and it still does.I was delighted to participate—to be asked—since god knows the New Yorker won’t be calling to solicit my opinion anytime soon.Dzanc has been a leading advocate for indie publishing, and it seemed fitting that they would spearhead a list of this nature.Still, I had a couple of concerns about the methodology . . .

My biggest concern was this: each publisher was asked to nominate two writers it had published, and two writers it had not published.I should specify here that this was a more fair and more generous methodology than that used by the New Yorker, where inclusion in its magazine was a prerequisite for all other voting.I mean, the New Yorker list—while I don’t think anyone is disputing the fact that it’s packed with a crazy amount of talent–should really have been called “The New Yorker’s Favorite of the Writers We’ve Published.”At least the Dzanc list asked more publishers, and required that publishers also put forth two writers they had not published . . .

But personally, I thought we should not have been able to nominate our own writers, period.Because immediately, I began to wonder what publishers were on the list of those invited to nominate, right?I mean, presumably every writer has a hell of a lot better chance of making a list like this if his or her own publisher has been invited for inclusion!So who was invited?Particularly for micro publishers with very small lists, some writers would be virtually guaranteed a nomination.And if you are a writer who has published two or three books with extremely small presses, you might be guaranteed two or three such nominations.Writers whose books had come out from larger indies—or whose presses were not invited—were automatically facing a disadvantage.And because the New Yorker list was all centered on writers who had been published in one particular magazine, the bias might be more transparent . . . the list of Dzanc nominators was not a “secret” per se, but was not included on the survey, so it was harder to guess at and promised to make it uncertain—once a final list was generated—who had made it onto the list despite their publishers not being the ones to nominate them, vs. who may have made it onto the list in a more biased-by-invitation fashion.

Well, enough about that.Still.It was an indie list, one that promised to hold a lot of talent on it and more reflect many of our experiences as readers, writers and publishers.I voted . . . and almost like campaigning and casting my vote for Obama and then finding out he’d actually won—and that I could celebrate instead of retreating into a state of cynical bitterness like after the Kerry defeat—I felt I was doing something worthwhile.I happily wrote down two of my authors’ names, and then two other writers I admire.I was particularly delighted that Dzanc did not require the writers to be under the age of 40.Being 42, that age limit no longer interests me as it might have when I was 32.  (Though I should note that, when I spoke to a some other people who had also nominated for Dzanc, it seemed quite a few had kept to the “under 40” adage that Dzanc had not actually requested.This perplexed me.As though Dzanc was being held to the New Yorker’s standards, like it or not . . .)

Fast forward a few days.And lo and behold, another message from Dzanc appeared in my inbox.This one gave a list of the writers who had made it past the first round of nominations, and asked that nominators select five of those writers and participate in a second voting round.I admit that the list, while containing some things I had very much expected (such as the inclusion of the super-talented Laura van den Berg, one of Dzanc’s own writers, on the short list of those who had received so many votes that no more were necessary and they were already included on the final list), also contained a few significant surprises.

These surprises went in two directions: writers not included and—by the very nature of that surprise—writers included “in their place.”

For example, like many indie writers, I have spent an extreme amount of time feeling by turns in awe of and envious of the immense acclaim and buzz certain indie writers—Stephen Elliott, Joshua Mohr, Emily St. John Mandel and Steve Almond all pop to mind—have managed to get in an industry where total obscurity is more the rule than the exception.These particular writers pop so readily to mind not just because the level of fame they’ve achieved is much higher than the average indie writer, but because their talent also exceeds most people writing today, period.

Not one among these four made the second round of voting.A couple, it seems, may not have even garnered any votes at all in the process . . .

This was extremely perplexing to me.Were there people you could ask in the indie community to cast a vote like this who would not mention any of these writers?!Apparently there were.Even more significantly, three of the four are under the age of 40, which made their lack of inclusion seem all the more . . . weird.

But!The list was still cool!I was still happy!Look, Jonathan Evison and Allison Amend were both on the ballot!Christian DeBordo! Matt Bell! I love these guys! Piss off, New Yorker!Go, Dzanc!

Another surprise came when, very quickly, another Dzanc email arrived.In this one, Dzanc indicated that they had received complaints about their finalists list, and that a number of people (I’m not sure how many) who had participated in round one of voting had decided to refrain from round two.

It occurred to me that those who were unhappy may have been precisely the ones who would help make the list more diverse and representative, and that by dropping out of the process, they were probably hurting more than helping . . . but of course this is the usual way of things when egos are involved, and when biases are unavoidable.  I voted, still happy to hear my voice counted.

Some five days later, a final list was reached and a press release sent out.Two of the five people I’d voted for in round two (none of those mentioned above) were included on the final list.

Plenty of other people whose work I really respect, but for whom I’d not voted due to my limited number of votes, were included too.I was really happy to see them there.

There is absolutely nobody on the list who sucks.Nobody who does not deserve greater recognition.Nobody who is not a “writer to watch.”

Albeit, I admit I would say this of the New Yorker list too . . .

Immediately, I shared the Dzanc list on my Facebook page, as many other writers were doing also (including Kevin Sampsell—a writer who himself would have been list-worthy), and comments began to fly around.

Said the very fine writer Rob Roberge on my wall, “Geez, how many lists can I not be included on.This is getting depressing.”

The lovely Allison Amend, who may just be my biggest fan and who recently offered attendees at a joint reading we did a “money back guarantee” out of her own pocket if they didn’t like my collection Slut Lullabies, proceeded to pimp me on someone else’s wall and lament my own lack of inclusion on the list.

Thanks, Allison!

Some other writers to watch who didn’t make Dzanc’s list: my buddy Patrick Somerville, whose Little Brown novel The Cradle was such a mainstream sensation that his impending indie collection (coming this fall from Featherproof Books) says all you need to know about what an amazing guy he is, and how the work is what matters to him.And TNB’s own Ben Loory, whose New Yorker story recently snagged him a big book deal, and who maybe will make the actual New Yorker list someday in the future.

Publishers Weekly covered Dzanc’s list (GalleyCat and other blogs did too) and this kind of mainstream coverage makes me glad.Fifteen years ago, when I got into this business, big publishing media did not even bother to pretend to care what we indies were up to.The nature of indie publishing—and the media’s reception to it—has changed immensely since then.As Steve Gillis said in the press statement, “We are . . . a community.We are the torchbearers.”I believe that too, and believe that even big media is coming to realize the truth therein. Independents are still publishing writers based on nothing but our (admittedly subjective–as all such things are subjective) ideas of excellence, and I don’t think anyone would even try to claim that this is the only–or even the biggest–concern in corporate publishing anymore.  We are a community indeed: often a little impoverished and half-crazed with overwork, but a community still held together by an idealism about–and love for–the written word. And for the record, Steve Gillis has done more for a small handful of publishers’ ability to keep bearing the torch (Other Voices Books, the imprint I co-founded, is one of these) than just about anyone in the entire industry, so he should know torch-bearing and community when he sees it.

So, with all these great vibes afoot, why did I still feel kind of bummed out?

Is it because I’m not on the list?Do I need to go back and re-read that Steve Almond piece until I commit it to memory?Envy is a strange beast, and we in the arts world are particularly prone to it, perhaps, because there is so damn little room at the “top.”Unlike those in most professions, where you can make a decent living as an attorney, a nurse, an options trader, a high school teacher, without having to be “famous” or make it onto any “best of” lists, those of us in the arts seem to live and die by this sort of recognition—your books must be chosen above so many other books to get one coveted review slot; your manuscript must be chosen above so many others to get one coveted award.We dare to try something more rare and elusive—something that exists to some extent outside of the necessary economy—and the risk of failure, even for those of us who have carved out some small niche or identity, is terrifyingly high.

This is all true.And yet, it seems there is also something bigger at hand.

The thing is: being a writer can kinda feel like never leaving high school.We all form “cliques” for our own survival, and the cliques exist in a kind of hierarchy model.The New Yorker clique could be said to be on the top of the clique pyramid.Those kids have the designer clothes and the cool cars.We indie kids have our own cachet too.We’re the ones up on the newest music, with our ears to the ground and our thrift store black clothes.We may be a little more prone to depression than those in the New Yorker clique, and our drugs are cheaper, but our parties are still fun.The thing is, like the New Yorker clique, we have our “cliques within a clique” too.Some of us were invited to contribute to the Dzanc list—I was one of the lucky ones invited.And some of us were not.Some of us have so many friends and fans in that inner circle that we made the Dzanc list before the second round of voting even began.And some of us did not even make the long list.

What does this mean?Well, for starters, life is not (thank god) high school. One exclusion does not define the next for years of your life.  For example, Stephen Elliott spent an entire year sleeping on the couches of people who would have voted for him—he runs an entire online culture community over at The Rumpus.Last summer, it was impossible to get on Twitter without somebody singing the praises of Emily St. John Mandel.Josh Mohr’s first book from Two Dollar Radio got so damn much acclaim that I’m wondering if reviewing his new book, Termite Parade, is redundant, and if somebody else needs that space more.And so on. The fact that they did not make Dzanc’s final list does not negate this. Happily, the world—even the lit world—is a big place.If you don’t make it into one cool crowd, chances are, another might have your back.

And so, it seems Dzanc was onto something all along.Says Dan Wickett, “We were not at all under the assumption that our list was going to be a perfect list.  For one, there is no such thing–there are way too many incredible writers working today to limit ourselves to 20 writers.  We also assumed in advance–and agree with those of you that pointed out that we’ve confirmed this assumption–that our own list was going to be prejudicial as well, just with different sets of prejudicial parameters.”

Yes!  A different set of prejudicial perimeters.  Like: not having to have been published in the New Yorker, which few writers can ever attain!  Like: not having to have a powerful literary agent, or a big ass advance, or a full-page New York Times review.  Thank goodness for this different set of prejudicial perimeters!  Dzanc set out to posit an alternate list to the New Yorker’s, and that is what they did.In the process, they made some people very happy, and pissed some other people off.Because that is what lists do.But what they really achieved was an empirical illustration that the New Yorker list is not “the” list, it is merely “a” list.The Dzanc list is “another” list.Perhaps there will be a few more, until we finally do get tired of talking about this, and turn our minds to some new gossip, some new form of judgment.

But if even one or two people—not normally aware of or privy to indie culture—end up reading Blake Butler or Lydia Millet as a result of Dzanc’s list, that will surely have made it all worth it, and cause for celebration for all torchbearers in our community.

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GINA FRANGELLO is the fiction editor of The Nervous Breakdown. She is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (forthcoming from Algonquin in Feb 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press) and My Sister's Continent (Chiasmus 2006). She is also the Sunday Editor at The Rumpus, and was the longtime editor of the literary magazine Other Voices, as well as the co-founder and executive editor of its book imprint, Other Voices Books (now an imprint of Dzanc Books). Her short stories have been published in many lit mags and anthologies, including A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection, Prairie Schooner, StoryQuarterly, and Fence, and her essays, journalism, reviews and interviews have appeared in such venues as the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post and the Chicago Reader. In her nonexistent spare time, she runs a writing program out of Mexico, <a href="http://www.othervoicesqueretaro.com/" Other Voices Queretaro.

51 responses to “The Lists We Love to Hate: First the New Yorker, Now Dzanc?”

  1. Great post Gina! Yes, the end result is that all those lists make all of us who are NOT on the list feel bad. Even when we’re happy for the people on the list. I mean once a list has been made, a line has been drawn and everyone who reads that list is either in or OUT. That said, CONGRATULATIONS to all the great writers who made the Dzanc list (and yes, the charming Allison Amend SHOULD have been on there! And YOU YOU YOU should have been on there!) and congratulations to everyone who made the New Yorker list, too.

  2. Thanks, girl–yes, congrats indeed. I didn’t want to make my essay too long by including the actual Dzanc list in the body of it, but here at the onset of the comments, I’d like to officially congratulate all the following amazing writers who made the list:

    Matt Bell
    Blake Butler
    M. Allen Cunningham
    Amelia Gray
    Samantha Hunt
    Jamie Iredell
    Kelly Link
    Norman Lock
    Gary Lutz
    Sarah Manguso
    Eugene Marten
    Scott McClanahan
    Mary Miller
    Lydia Millet
    Kyle Minor
    Yannick Murphy
    Lori Ostlund
    Benjamin Percy
    Justin Taylor
    Laura van den Berg

    So as everyone can see (here I’m not just talking to you anymore, Jessica, but the the “universal” you), this baby is just bursting with talent. One thing I think can be dangerous is the possibility that some people will start singling out individual writers on any list and saying “such-and-such shouldn’t be there, I don’t like his work,” which is just kind of toxic and bad for everyone. But I DO love the idea of using a list like this as a jump-off point for promoting additional great indie writers: I named at least 6 in my essay who would have been list-worthy, but of course there are so many more! Please feel free to name them in the comments! Tell us about them! What are their best books–what should we read?

    Dzanc’s list, while mainly populated by writers with whom I was already quite familiar, did introduce me to a few new names–I’d love to learn some more here!

    • And, can I just bitch for a second about the “under 40” thing? That, if anything, is what irks me the most. Hopefully we ALL will live long enough to reach 40 and move beyond 40. And hopefully, we’ll all be writing well past 40! The idea that at 40 you shrivel up into a mottled-gray, crinkled, skin tag who couldn’t tap out anything worth reading is . . . horrifying!

      I think it should be changed to 20 writers under a 100. Then there will be another special list: 20 writers over a 100. That list might be all-inclusive.

  3. rob roberge says:

    Hey Gina-

    Great piece…and I think the people on the list are great. But, just to clarify about the quotation above…I put one of those smile-y things after my line about how depressing it was. Hope it was clear that I was kidding. I used to worry about this stuff in my twenties…not so much anymore. I’m cool with my obscure mid-list state 🙂 Love ya!

  4. Rob! Nice to see you on TNB! (And your piece has gotta get up here–did you create a gravatar? Email me about that!)

    No, I totally get it, I knew you weren’t sincerely bitter and snarky about it and were mainly kidding–I just think you were also saying expressing that everyone was kind of feeling, just like Steve Almond was saying in his original response to the New Yorker list too . . . it’s impossible to read a list like this and not feel like, well . . . Geez.

    Tod Goldberg! Another amazing writer who did not make the list (though he was one of the 2 OV writers I nominated, as he’s the only one we’ve done 2 books by.)

  5. I once made a list of cool Bakersfield people. That was weird.

    I think I’ve been on about ten lists of “If you see this dude in the crosswalk, punch the gas!”

    I have made some Twitter lit lists I have been proud of: Mashable, the U.K. Guardian and such for @smallplaces.

    Seriously, life is an obstacle course. If we can negotiate it and get on some lists here and there and sell more books (or just get more street cred) then heck, I’m all for it. But we have to create those list-worthy books. And break into more circles. Or somehow empower those that we’re in as great circles in their own right.

    I like the indy lit list idea. Smart. Good marketing.

    At this point I would feel lucky to make a TNB top 40 list!

  6. I think we’re pushing 300 writers now! But I do have to admit, I don’t think we have anyone even approaching 100 years old on the roster–maybe THAT should be our new agenda. It’s kind of funny that Irene Zion is sort of the den mother of TNB . . . Irene cannot be older than her late 50, maybe 60 at the absolute tops. Clearly, we TNBers need to get some genuine oldsters in here! Anybody have a grandpa who can write?

    • I could bring in Larry Hill. He’s the guy I mentioned in my “Saroyan’s Postcards” piece. He’s 79 and amazing!

      • Who’s the youngest? James D. Irwin is the only one I can think of.

      • Seriously, we need a 79 year old in the mix! Brad, are you out there? Let’s get Nick’s boy Larry a gravatar!

        • I will ask Larry if he is interested. If so I will connect him to Brad.

          Here’s my top TNB 20. I will get shit for this. But, it’s just a quick flyby. I love you all. I really do. But this is my picks after just digging a fence post hole in the sweltering heat:

          Gina Frangello: because it was your idea.
          Brad Listi: because it’s his site.
          Erika Rae: because she has cool kids.
          Lenore Zion: because she is crazy.
          Irene Zion: because she gave birth to a crazy child.
          Jessica Anya Blau: because she writes about crazy people.
          Matt Baldwin: because he beats up crazy people.
          Rich Ferguson: because there needs to be a poet.
          Eric Spitznagel: because his last name is cool.
          Elizabeth Collins: because she was in the news.
          Greg Olear: because he is totally killer.
          J.M. Blaine: because he still wants to be THE Wrestler.
          Joe Daly: because he has cool round table discussions.
          Jim Simpson: because he tells it like it is.
          Jonathan Evison: because he had me illustrate his book.
          Kip Tobin: Because he’s Kip. Why else?
          Sean Beaudoin: because he once wrote to me about a sock puppet.
          Slade Ham: because he has a great sense of humor.
          Zara Potts: because she is hooked on America.
          Tyler Stoddard Smith: because he met Ginsberg.

        • On second thought. I don’t like my list (Not that I don’t like the people on it!) I need a top 40. I left out too many people. I’m realizing this now that I drank some water and started going through the list in a more serious manner… lol.

        • Crap, and I left off Duke and I always read his work… Oh man.

        • Oh, I know, Nick: it’s truly impossible to do a “TNB Greatest Hits” list with only 20 slots. Forgive yourself–it’s a task beyond the ability of any mere mortal.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          You created me, Belardes! And now you cast me aside! Now I know how Frankenstein’s Monster felt…


    • Bring in the old! Bring in the old! I’m going to find some “old” people to contribute. Old people are great: they’re wise, they’ve been through a lot, they don’t care about spider veins, and most of them still smoke pot.

      • Okay, I am all about old people with doobies.

        • Zoe Zolbrod says:

          Hey, can my dad contribute. He’s on the far side of 75. That’s old! And he used to have a pipe in his mouth about 18 hours a day. Not with pot in it, but still. And he’s a really good writer. He just sent me an piece he wrote about the Korean War that he wants to post online somewhere. What would he have to do to post it here?

        • Mr. Listi is the arbiter of all things TNB, old and young, Zoe–if your dad would seriously like to join the fray, he should get in touch with Brad. It would be very, very funny indeed to now have “Zoe’s Dad” in addition to “Lenore’s Mom” on the roster!

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Ah, I’m not certain, but I think I’m the oldest. Born in 1943 — just turned 67. But you wouldn’t know it from my gravatar, now would you?

      But “oldsters?” Please.

      Irene can have all the den-parenting she wants. I don’t want to be the den father, if there is such a thing.

      I’m not a grandfather, though I think it’s coming.

  7. dwoz says:

    The internet has done two things…one amazing, and the other awful:

    It has removed the boundaries and barriers which kept legions of authors out of the “big kid’s lounge.”

    …and that’s great!

    And it has removed the boundaries and barriers which kept legions of authors out of the big kid’s lounge.

    …and that’s not so great!

    One thing that the, er, old publishing model does, is to provide a bit of a gatekeeper service. No revelation there, right? When you broke through those gates, you were on a field with a bunch of proven, strong writers who you would compete with for readers.

    In this new model, you walk through that turnstyle gate, and you’re in a vast sea of unproven writers who are clamoring for whatever scrap of oxygen they can find.

    So instead of competing against greatness, you are now competing against noise.

    This is the exact same problem hitting the music industry today as well. Something’s gotta give. If this writing thing is going to amount to anything more than pissing in the ocean, there has to be some way of filtering. Either filtering out writers, or filtering out readers. Or both.

    I think the lists, in their myriad glory, make a start at fulfilling that need, but they must be seen for what they are. It’s like selecting the 20 swimmers for the Olympic team…there can be only 20, so you draw that arbitrary line between this swimmer and the next. But while there was a time difference of one whole second between number one and number two, and one tenth of a second between number two and number three, there was only a couple hundredths of a second between number three and number 143.

    As a reader, I can consider filling up my dance card with 20 writers. And though utterly deserving, I just cannot see where I’m going to fit 143 into my life this year.

    And it will be suggested that the answer to this is to segment the list…by genre, by whatever. In the fine tradition of mass market promotions, it would be what the radio industry calls “narrow-casting.” I think that concept should be rejected!

    Because, after all…do I REALLY want to be known as the “#5 guy on the tech-geek-20-something-fiction-with-female-protagonist” list?

    • zoe zolbrod says:

      I love dwoz’s quote, “So instead of competing against greatness, you are now competing against noise.” It does seem like a really noisy world right now. Screaming does seem a mandatory part of a writer’s job.

      But I’ve been wondering about the “good old days” of publishing. (When would those have been, anyway? I’ve read somewhere recently that they were the 1950s and 1960s.) Was there really more greatness out there? Might there not have been also a multitude of pretty-good or semi-lame published books that no one remembers now? If we could crunch all the numbers–population then and now, number of books published then and now, and bought then and now, and number of writers making a living off it then and now–what would the differences be? (And in terms of making a living, what would the differences be in we factored in tenured academic jobs?) I know there were more paying venues for short stories, way back when.

      But were there also far fewer people writing them, as a percentage of the population? If I were an academic myself, maybe I would research this. Until after WWII and the inception of the GI Bill, so many fewer people went to college. How did the masses getting access to higher education affect the numbers of writer wannabes?

      Hmm. I guess I’ve wandered off topic. 200 under 100. I love that idea.

      • Zoe, you have some excellent points here–points I’ve heard others raise and have raised myself and would LOVE to see some concerete research on! I always feel those idyllic tales of the “glory age” of publishing are probably a little skewed. I do feel there are just more writers today, period. More good ones, more bad ones. Perhaps about the same number of Truly Great ones, who will survive throughout the ages. I wish somebody would write a book about this and give us some numbers! Though probably nobody but an indie press would publish it, ha!

      • dwoz says:

        I think the point comes down to this: in Old Publishing, you really had the exact same problem you have today, but at a different level.

        Back then, the “select few” competed with each other for readers. And the teeming masses of would-be authors competed with each others’ noise for notice by the PUBLISHERS.

        Today, that is the exact same problem, only shifted up so the whole damn mess is in the readers’ hands.

        Most definitely, there is no definite correlation between being mass-market published and literary excellence. Lots of pulp or even, gasp, dreck, gets published, because after all it isn’t the literature-selling industry, it’s the book-selling industry. So no, plenty that was deserving was passed over.

        But, the fact remains, that a publisher would not bring the financial and marketing resources to bear, on a real turd. It would need to hit a certain minimum bar, to make for enthusiastic investment.

        So yes, the question must be asked whether we REALLY REALLY need another vampire book…and also no, it is probably fairly well-written!

  8. Dwoz, you bring up a great point in terms of the truth that most of us–even those of us who live book-filled lives–are not going to read 143 books this year. We may read anywhere between a dozen and 100 (the latter being mainly professional book bloggers), depending on our levels of time and ambition, but the vast majority of us will read fewer than 50 published books, and probably MOST will only read between 10-20. I myself don’t read more than 20 published books per year, considering that I also read student manuscripts, Other Voices Books manuscripts, TNB manuscripts, and friends’ unpublished work. And so, yes, lists provide a dose of sanity: a guarantee that we will be spending our time on writing that is “good,” that has been given a pre-existing stamp of approval.

    I think the thing that makes me crazy, here, though, is the part where in our culture it’s become assumed that to read something “everyone else is reading” is the best thing to read. I don’t mean this about the Dzanc list, because these are indie writers, not blockbusters for the main part, and these writers all need more people to read them! But the phenomenon of things like Larson’s “Girl” trilogy . . . I’m not knocking those books (I haven’t read them, but I hear they’re pretty decent as blockbusters go) . . . I mean, this is part of the “Today Show Book Club,” chain-store, Amazon recommendation syndrome that gets under my skin in a bad way and stands in sharp contrast to the way indie bookstore owners used to hand-sell and recommend titles, with no real idea or care about what the people in the next city or town were reading . . . just finding books you like and sharing them with friends in a small way, without the necessity of so much homogeneity among who reads what.

    So, I mean, yeah, the book world needs gatekeepers to some extent. I wouldn’t be an editor if I didn’t believe that. But I think we need to consider who the gatekeepers ARE and wonder whether the producers of daytime TV shows and chain store buyers or corporate publishing shareholders are really who we want to tell us what we should be reading.

    The New Yorker list itself does try to remedy this to some extent, and I commend them for that. Dzanc’s list takes that remedy even further, and is a great jumping-off point for curious readers who want to explore lesser-known talent. But the best solution possible seems to me that readers should remain curious even beyond any list, should go into indie bookstores and touch and feel and turn the pages of glue-and-paper books, and get a feel for them. And go online and read literary blogs and see who’s doing and saying things that seem up the same alley of interests. Sometimes, it seems like this is “too much to expect” from readers, and maybe that’s really what drives me a little nuts . . .

  9. Matt says:

    The thing is: being a writer can kinda feel like never leaving high school. We all form “cliques” for our own survival, and the cliques exist in a kind of hierarchy model. The New Yorker clique could be said to be on the top of the clique pyramid.

    I had the exact same thought when I saw that list. It was like being at high school prom, watching all of the cool and rich kids elect members of their own as king & queen. That all of them had been exclusively pulled from The New Yorker‘s pages just seemed so….incestuous. And kinda furthered my perception of the magazine as, well, snobbish.

    Not to denigrate the talented folks on that list, but I’d rather hang out with the crowd on Dzanc’s list. But then I’ve always preferred the company of the freaks and geeks.

  10. And Zoe, where is your gravatar?! I know you have one–you were a Featured Author!

  11. Matt, I think Dan Wickett should throw an “indie press prom,” with the 20 Dzanc list writers as the honorary kings and queens. No shit: I’m emailing him right now and telling him so!

  12. Great post Gina — true we all make lists — we also all LOSE lists. A list is a list is a list…. while the writers singled out are talented — we all know that the list doesn’t tell all. As I’ve said before you are an amazingly hard working woman of words (as is Jessica, Susan, Zoe, Allison….. et al). Perhaps I’ll start my own list..;-)

  13. Stellar.

    I was crazy-excited when I saw Ben Percy’s name on that list. He’s been a favorite of mine for a long time.

    Everyone on the list is great. That this list might bring people to check out people they hadn’t previously known about is great for everyone. Okay, well, maybe a James Patterson reader’s not going to come across this list and better themselves by checking out these authors, but it’s still good. Right?

  14. Love Ben Percy! And love the line in a recent P&W article where he says that the fact that Fiona at Graywolf has an English accent makes everything she says sound “more reasonable.”

  15. I want to go hunting with him. Or, white water rafting. Something manly.

  16. Okay, I can’t echo that part. But I appreciate the spirit of it . . .

  17. Or, just read his stuff. Though, I imagine he’d be fun to go rafting with.

  18. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Did not see commenting on New Yorker itself as a magazine. Certainly not same as 20 years ago. Like first hand stuff by Clark Clifford and later Saddam Husein’s Prime minister Tariq Aziz. Fascinating. Why do they call the drivel in there poetry? And people swoon over this stuff. I don’t get it. And poets(ha ha) blog each other flattering each other’s poetic genius. And they hold conventions all over giving each other awards with impressive literary names. Foolishness. It seems like self perpetuating praising each other’s nonsense so the rest of us think there’s something wrong with us! I enter the Cartoon Caption Contest every week and all the rejects are funnier and more insightful than the 1,2,3, winners. The prize for this contest is pretty ditzy too. Only redeeming quality is cartoons and that’s work a buck a copy for 1 year subscription.

  19. Irene Zion says:

    Plus, Gina,

    There are LOTS of people OVER 40.
    They’re still here too.

  20. Clark Papador says:

    I hope all of these lists make everyone feel a lot better about themselves and their place in the world. I find them self-serving and pointless. And it doesn’t remind me of High School. It reminds me of Junior High, maybe even Elementary School.

  21. Gina:

    Wonderful piece, my dear. And whenever I begin creating my own lists, I’ll be sure to put you at the top of each one. Even if one of the lists happens to be, “Crocodile Wranglers That I Wouldn’t Want to Meet in a Dark Tallahassee Alley,” I’ll manage to justify your existence there somehow.

    Peace and plenty o’ lists…

  22. Rich, how did you know that was the one list I really want to be on?! I’ll have to regale you with stories about my Dark Alley In Tallahassee past someday . . .

  23. Marni Grossman says:

    When I got the fiction issue of the New Yorker, I found myself particularly depressed by the inclusion of Tea Obrecht- some 24-year-old writer I’d never heard of. For the simple reason that she is 24 and I am too and the New Yorker doesn’t give a shit about me. Never mind that I don’t write fiction.

    Envy is a funny beast. You want to master it but always always you find yourself feeling the same way you felt when you were 12 and your best friend was asked to dance and you ended up sitting alone in a corner.

    This was really wonderful. Thought-provoking and timely.

    • I get that feeling with everyone on the list that’s younger than me, like somehow I’m past my literary prime – not having published…yet – and should give up. When some writer in their early 20s publishes some amazing piece, I feel behind the curve. That envy can make you crazy.

  24. Thanks, Marni. This is so funny, because when I was 24, I would have been insanely jealous of some 24 year old chick who had published in major magazines, like yourself! That’s the ironic and awful thing about envy, isn’t it: it’s incurable, because no matter where you’re standing, somebody is rocking it more than you. I still can barely think about the fact that you are 24 and that I am basically old enough to be your (right out of high school, probably unwed and on welfare) mother. (That makes me envious too, of all those years in front of you, even the bad ones . . .)

  25. […] Duck, Dayton, dirt, Don the Bowler, each other, hate-worthy lists, It’s a Wonderful […]

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