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Young Americans

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Best of Young American Novelists 2, Granta, 2007

Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2 tells us what the 21 best writers are today who were born or grew up in America and are under 35. On the book’s website it says “winners” and then a list of names. These are the people who are the best writers alive (under 35 and born or raised in America). They have won. Their writing was so good that they defeated everyone else. They defeated a lot of writers. How many published writers under 35 are there in America? Probably thousands. Thousands were defeated by 21. In battle. The battle of words. Like in Braveheart when Mel Gibson led his smaller army against a larger army. Or more like in that movie 300 where 300 Spartans fight a million Romans or something (I didn’t see the movie, I don’t know what happens). This is the movie called 21, directed by Granta. Jonathan Safran Foer can now stand in his bathroom and look at himself in the mirror and know that he is truly the best. Daniel Alarcon and the others can fight depression by thinking, “Wait, I am the best.” Anyone not on the list can kill them self or maybe try something else like online video games or fantasy football where they at least still have the chance to be “the best.”

I want to try to figure out how something like this book can happen. Probably first a Granta person is at a party or something and hears someone say something like, “No one cares about Granta. Granta is a piece of shit. And old. It is an old piece of shit. Does anyone even read Granta?” The next day at a Granta editorial meeting that person says, “I heard someone say that no one reads Granta.” Someone else says, “Yes, our circulation has gone down.” Someone else says, “What should we do?” Someone else says, “We need to do something sensational. We need a list. People like lists. We need to create a list of the best writers alive. That will create discussion. We need to put ‘America’ in the title. That sells copies. People will buy. And since it’s in the service of art, it doesn’t matter if there really isn’t a ‘best’ in art. More people will read. The more people that read the better.”

Later the book is created and on a table. Someone looks at it and says, “We sound like asses. Did we really create this?” Someone else says, “You are right. Maybe we can show we’re just being sarcastic when we say ‘best’ by making the cover look like… like it’s being sarcastic.” Someone is commissioned to create a sarcastic cover. The cover is created. Then someone in a meeting says, “It is called The Best Writers Ever and it has a sarcastic cover, will the writers think we’re making fun of them? Can we afford to alienate such literary luminaries as ZZ Packer, Gary Shteyngart, and Nicole Krauss? Who will we publish if that happens?” The cover gets changed. Someone says, “Just make it look like McDonald’s. That sells and only a small percentage of the population will think it’s being sarcastic and that small percentage will also know that actually we, like McDonald’s, aren’t being sarcastic.” The cover is changed to look like a McDonald’s ad. Later someone says, “Novels sell better than short stories.” The title gets changed to say “novelists.” Someone mentions that there is no “best” in art. The editor of Granta wakes up screaming in a nightmare where a beast representing his subconscious mind is chasing him saying, “There is no best in art!” Five weeks later after negotiations with investors and non-profit foundations that support Granta and many editorial meetings where the editor of Granta goes as far as narrating his nightmare and describing the sweat on his forehead as he woke up screaming the title gets changed from “Best Writers” to “Best of” (though the website and other promotional things aren’t updated to be consistent with that; investors and grant-givers wouldn’t allow the website and promotional materials to be changed). Finally it happens. The book is here. It is in bookstores. Now any of the writers on the list who as four-years-old said, “I want to be the best writer ever,” have actually achieved their goal.

I don’t know. A lot of things like that probably happened. Who should be blamed for all this? Can anyone be blamed? “Blamed” for what? (For doing something that will increase pain and suffering in the world? By promoting the concept of “best” in something that is personal and has no “best” outside of a single brain at a single moment in time? Like I think I have “proved” elsewhere, on my blog, or somewhere?) I don’t know. I myself feel like an ass right now. I don’t understand how or why, even, to “review” a book unless to review it positively, like you are recommending it to someone. I could do that. I could recommend a book to someone. But I didn’t really enjoy the stories in Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2. But I don’t enjoy a lot of things. I don’t enjoy a lot of writing that I read. Maybe 95% of the writing I read I do not enjoy. Also 95% of the people I meet I do not enjoy. Many people meet me and they do not enjoy me. This is all to be accepted. Not everyone will like everything else that exists in the universe. Some people enjoy putting salt on watermelon. I do not enjoy that. But I would not go around trying to convince people not to put salt on watermelon. Unless the salt industry was bad in concrete reality. (Which might be the case with writers who help corporations get more money, which is the case with all the writers on Granta’s list, because they are all published by corporations). But if the salt industry was bad (from a perspective in which pain and suffering is “bad”) in concrete reality I still would not write a review against salt on watermelons. I would factually explain why the salt industry was creating more pain and suffering in the world. I wouldn’t focus on salt on watermelon. But on salt.

I think I’ll just make some observations. Many of the writers included were not born in America. Or do not write about things that take place in America. Those are my observations. I didn’t have many observations. I could type a lot more observations if I thought harder but I feel really bad when I think about these things. This is the observation paragraph. I have made my observations.

Many of you might be thinking, “Why did Tao Lin even write this review?” Since this review has no rhetoric, in that it doesn’t tell you what is good and what is bad, and doesn’t tell you what to do, in life, it is like a poem or a story. And people wouldn’t ask, “Why did ____ even write this poem or story?” Or some people would ask that. But it is like asking, “Why does Tao Lin even exist?” I don’t know. Have a nice day.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tao Lin is the author of a novel, EEEEE EEE EEEE, and a story-collection, BED, that were published simultaneously in May, 2007 by Melville House. Tao is also the author of a poetry collection, YOU ARE A LITTLE BIT HAPPIER THAN I AM, and has been published in Noon, Nerve, the Mississippi Review, the Cincinnati Review, Other Voices, Fourteen Hills, Punk Planet, Harper’s, and Juked. He is Poetry Editor of 3:AM.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, June 14th, 2007.