Friday, June 4, 2010

Pretty Young Things

The New Yorker has mulled, culled, and ultimately anointed its "20 Under 40" list of promising fiction writers.  The last time the magazine pulled this kind of publicity stunt was 1999 and included such hot-and-future luminaries as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri.  This decade's complete list (which will appear in next week's issue of The New Yorker):

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32
Chris Adrian, 39
Daniel Alarcón, 33
David Bezmozgis, 37
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38
Joshua Ferris, 35
Jonathan Safran Foer, 33
Nell Freudenberger, 35
Rivka Galchen, 34
Nicole Krauss, 35
Yiyun Li, 37
Dinaw Mengestu, 31
Philipp Meyer, 36
C. E. Morgan, 33
Téa Obreht, 24
Z Z Packer, 37
Karen Russell, 28
Salvatore Scibona, 35
Gary Shteyngart, 37
Wells Tower, 37

Congratulations to all the young pups--though, at the half-ripe age of 39 (which is still in my rearview mirror) I'd hardly have thought of myself as "young."  Not even "young-ish."

Looking at the list, I'm wondering if editor Deborah Treisman and other staffers shouldn't have just gone with a larger list called "30 in Their 30s."  Only two of the 20 were in their 20s (a lot of 2s in that observation).  If the list is really supposed to focus on the best writers who are just breaking the horizon, it seems to me most of the energy should come from those on the younger side of the scale.  Or, was it too hard for The New Yorker to find sustainable talent among those fresh from MFA programs?

At any rate, the purpose of the list--regardless of who made it and who was left standing at the door behind the velvet rope--is to call public attention to fiction writers whose names are relatively unfamiliar to most readers.  It works for me: of the 20, I hadn't heard of Li, Mengestu, or Obreht.  Of the others on the list, I'd only read books by Bezmozgis and Packer.  But I really loved what I read.  My review of Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is here and my review of Bezmozgis' Natasha and Other Stories is here.  So that bodes well for the other 18, I think.

Others I might have added if I was king of the world?  These are just the ones I came up with, based on the books I've read in the past five years: Amanda Eyre Ward, Reif Larsen (The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet was only sporadically good, but I really loved the book's inventiveness), John Brandon, Joe Hill (to paraphrase Willie Nelson, the guy can scare the paint off a trailer hitch with his ghost stories), Kevin Brockmeier, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), and Roy Kesey.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    Good call on that Kesey fellow. I'd think you'd like Adichie for sure from what I know of your taste. I think your comments toward RF might apply solidly to WT in the list - two incredible stories and a lot of okay stories in that highly revered collection.