Great article that starts as a fighting critique of Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man then progresses toaddress some of the ills of the book publishing industry.
The book industry’s latest-is-best attitude seems out-of-kilter with our literary aesthetics. In 1939 Ezra Pound wrote that “literature is news that STAYS new.” To this day, it’s as good a definition as we have. It seems self-evident that a great book from 1973 is preferable to a so-so book from 2010. It seems obvious that an author’s best book should be bought before his latest. (For example, Ian McEwan’s first novel, the wicked, brilliant and little-known The Cement Garden deserves as much attention as his grandiose new satire Solar.) Novels of value should not be judged by their publication date. We should not read novels as historical artifacts or purely as commentary on our socio-political moment. Truly great fiction somehow manages to remain forever radical.