"Interesting" is not a word we much care for. It's weak, vague, and is generally deployed when we're avoiding saying something else, usually something bad: "I thought your debut novel was ... interesting." "The films of Edward Zwick are ... interesting." You get the idea.
That said, when we came across the reading list for Zadie Smith's upcoming fiction seminar (via), we couldn't help but find the list ... interesting. Here it is, reproduced:
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster
Catholics, Brian Moore
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
Crash, J.G. Ballard
An Experiment in Love, Hilary Mantel
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, David Lodge
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
My Loose Thread, Dennis Cooper
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
The Loser, Thomas Bernhard
The Book of Daniel, E.L. Doctorow
A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
Reader's Block, David Markson
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
The Quiet American, Graham Greene
A respectable list, indeed, one that any student of fiction would do well to study closely. So wherefore, then, our "interest"? Well, in light of Smith's overheated revanchist New York Review of Books essay last November, we're surprised to see how overwhelmingly the very "lyrical realist" novel, whose supposed stranglehold she decries, dominates the list. Sure, you've got your Markson, your Bernhard and your DFW. But how does one reconcile this list with the cri de coeur of that Manichean essay? Is there one standard for readers of the NYRB and another for Columbia fiction students? It's hard to know for sure, but what better way to seed the ground with future Remainders than to get the buggers while they're young, no? Inconsistent? Provocative? Conformist? We're just not sure.
All of which we find, well, interesting. Wise readerly thoughts welcome below.