Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books, asks Do We Need Stories?
If one starts with the assumption that we read novels merely to see our lives reflected in them, then the purpose of reading is solipsistic and pointless. But if you wish to enlarge your experience, by way of vicarious adventures, then stories are useful and wonderful tools. To me, it is all about contemplating life and culture from different points of view, enjoying the original use of language, experiencing rare emotions, and pondering something more than the getting of my daily bread.
I don’t want to live like a wild animal, concerned only with feeding my belly. I want to feed my mind even more. An original literary style, an eccentric way of seeing the world that speaks to that need for intellectual sustenance is absolutely essential to me. If it isn’t to others I am sorry for them. But, why then, even bother to write about it in the pages of a book review? Perhaps the author simply hasn’t read anything original lately. That would not surprise me. Our mass-produced practitioners of academic “literary fiction,” all of whom sound exactly alike and write the same banal and inoffensive stories, couched in polite and prettified prose for proper middle-aged ladies’ book clubs, have been euthanized by marketing orthodoxy.
That, and the stuff concerned primarily with the lives, loves, and neuroses of contemporary academicians — chock full of allusions to canonical works which, thanks to the literary theorists, nobody bothers to read anymore — which nonetheless constitutes the zenith of literary fiction today, and is often taught in the classroom in place of canonical works, thus leaving students with a bad impression of serious literature.
Are there no writers left out there who capture the vicissitudes of normal life in voice people living outside the classroom might want to listen to? Something that isn’t suburban realism, which has already been done to death by three generations of forgettable hacks.
Or perhaps he plays devil’s advocate here, to get us to think about the value of fiction.