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How Writing Became a Career

Yet another vital NYRB Blog post from Tim Parks.

Still, none of this prepared us for the advent of creative writing as a “career.” In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. A Rushdie. A Pamuk.

It’s rather as if the spontaneous Romanticism of the nineteenth-century poets had become a job description; we know what a romantic is (his politics, his behavior patterns), we know that is the way to literary greatness, so let’s do it. Coetzee’s novel Youth captures with fine wryness the trials of a methodical young man seeking to make a career out of becoming the kind of writer he is not.

Let’s consider a few of the changes that led us to this state of affairs.

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The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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