Lists and Notable Articles

20 More Under 40

By posted at 6:55 am on June 16, 2010 46

One might have imagined that the emergence of an online kommentariat would have made The New Yorker’s 2010 “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue, released last week, an even bigger buzz engine than its 1999 predecessor. For some reason, though – high humidity in the mid-Atlantic? the preponderance of Knopf and FSG authors? the preexistence of a Granta theme issue with significant overlap? the nebulous formulation “writers who we believe are, or will be, key to their generation”? – the magazine’s list of the best young American fiction writers has met mostly with polite golf clapping.

To be sure, it’s hard to begrudge these 20 terrific writers their honor. We’ve been excited to read in the issue new work from friends (and interested to observe the generational influence exerted by 1999 honoree George Saunders). But, as the accompanying Comment suggests, “to encourage . . . second-guessing is perhaps the best reason to make lists.” And, wishing to see more such second-guessing, we’ve decided to rise to the bait and offer our own, non-overlapping, list of young-ish writers to watch.

The exercise gave us a new appreciation for The New Yorker‘s editorial staff: It turns out to be damn hard to figure out who to call American. (There’s also a shocking number of writers who are 40 this year: Brady Udall, Nathan Englander, Ed Park, Danzy SennaPaul LaFarge…). It’s nice to be reminded, however, as we all wring our hands about the future of fiction, of the preponderance of of thirtysomething talent out there. So, with apologies for obviousness, we hereby present an informal, unscientific, alternate-universe “20 Under 40” list.

  • coverCalvin Baker‘s three works of fiction range fearlessly across the expanse of American experience from the Middle Passage forward. In Dominion, one of several recent novels to tackle the antebellum period, Baker finds his own, hybrid solution to the challenge of voicing the past.
  • Jesse Ball‘s first two novels, Samedi the Deafness and The Way Through Doors, both reviewed here, show off a fabulist sensibility that’s somehow both minimalist and maximalist – Paul Auster by way of The Arabian Nights. Ball won The Paris Review‘s Plimpton Prize for fiction in 2008.
  • Chris Bachelder, author of Bear vs. Shark and U.S.! wields the two weapons all great satirists need: an eye for the absurd and a deep moral sense. For what it’s worth, Bachelder’s remarkable lexicon had at least one reader convinced for a few weeks in 2007 that he was a pseudonym of David Foster Wallace.
  • coverMischa Berlinski‘s first novel, Fieldwork, like the best fieldwork, moves beyond the parochial concerns of the American writing program without resorting to exoticism. It was a National Book Award finalist. Berlinski is currently in Haiti, we’re told, working on another.
  • Tom Bissell, who has lately published nonfiction in The New Yorker, might have been a plausible candidate for inclusion on its list. His first collection of short fiction, God Lives in St. Petersburg, was a finalist for the Believer Book Award.
  • Judy Budnitz is one of America’s great unsung short-story writers. Her two collections, Flying Leap and Nice Big American Baby marry Kafka-esque premises with a ruthless willingness to follow them to their conclusions. Also a novelist, she made the Granta list a couple years back.
  • coverJoshua Cohen, a prolific (and quotably bellicose) 29-year-old, just published his sixth book, a Ulyssean 800-pager called Witz. Expect serious reviews to start appearing in the fall, when people have actually finished the damned thing.
  • Kiran Desai is now a permanent resident of the U.S….or so says Wikipedia. Her 2006 novel, The Inheritance of Loss, was a Booker Prize winner and was on a lot of people’s year-end lists.
  • Myla Goldberg may have lost some credibility with literary mandarins when her first novel, Bee Season, became a Richard Gere vehicle. However, her second novel, Wickett’s Remedy, shows that her ambitions extend well beyond orthography.
  • coverSheila Heti, a puckish Canadian, can be on our list if David Bezmozgis can be on The New Yorker‘s. Her first collection, The Middle Stories, featured fables skewed sui generisly. She’s since published a novel, Ticknor, and appeared as Lenore in Leanne Shapton‘s Important Artifacts.
  • Samantha Hunt‘s most recent novel, The Invention of Everything Else, was a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla; her previous piece, The Seas, was similarly inventive. Like Heti and Bissell, she cut her teeth in McSweeney’s.
  • Porochista Khakpour‘s debut, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, showed off her acrobatic voice; recent work in Guernica suggests more of the same.
  • coverBenjamin Kunkel, aside from having mastered the voice of bemused neuroticism in Indecision, has one of the most interesting minds around, as evidenced by his far-ranging criticism in The London Review of Books. A play, Buzz, is forthcoming from N+1.
  • Victor LaValle‘s third book, the splendidly eccentric Big Machine, has been his breakout. A Publisher’s Weekly best novel of 2009, it has won him many fans, including our own Edan Lepucki, who reviewed it here last fall.
  • Fiona Maazel‘s Last Last Chance is one of the most ambitious debuts of recent years, covering plague, addiction, and chicken processing. Maazel was a Lannan Foundation fellow in 2005.
  • coverJoe Meno, unlike any writer on the New Yorker list, published his first few novels with an independent press, Brooklyn’s Akashic Books. A writer of considerable range, the Chicago-based Meno last year published a rollicking family novel, The Great Perhaps, which occasioned an interview with and profile by Edan.
  • Julie Orringer spent the several years of radio silence that followed her feted story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, productively. Her expansive first novel, The Invisible Bridge, has been hailed for its historical sweep and intimate portraiture.
  • Salvador Plascencia‘s memorably and typographically strange novel, The People of Paper, rivals Chris Adrian‘s The Children’s Hospital for the title of Most Interesting Novel McSweeney’s Has Published (Non-Eggers Division). We have no idea what he’s working on now, but we look forward to it.
  • Eric Puchner is the author of Music Through the Floor, a collection that won the NYPL’s Young Lions Award. This year, he published the similarly well-received novel Model Home. His wry essay about being married to the novelist Katharine Noel can be found here.
  • Anya Ulinich‘s debut, Petropolis, rendered the life of a post-Soviet expatriate with Bellovian figurative brio. She’s got a great story called “Mr. Spinach” floating around out there somewhere…hopefully part of a collection?
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46 Responses to “20 More Under 40”

  1. gwen
    at 9:41 am on June 16, 2010

    I wonder why young adult writers are absent from both 20 under 40 lists. It seems sad that although young adult is a financial powerhouse for publishers, its authors are still not seen as worthy of these types of awards. I hope someday the genre and its authors will be validated for its contribution to the canon.

    For full disclosure, I am a young adult author. I myself am not worthy of this award, but I could name at least twenty who are….

  2. nate
    at 10:04 am on June 16, 2010

    I have a problem with authors who have published only one book being on lists like these, and I’ll tell you why. First novels, be they good or icky, are through the processes of publishing so out of the hands of first novelists themselves, in so many ways, they seldom display everything the writer has in his or her arsenal. And not to knock this list, which is well-deserved on many counts, but almost every first novel should be edited well, not to take out the experimentation or playfulness on the page but to capture the writer’s true voice. Which of course the writer doesn’t fully know, regardless of whether or not he or she has published before. That’s the problem with ostensibly “experimental” fiction: there’s not a defined enough line between playfulness, which is good, and preening, which ain’t.

  3. nate
    at 10:05 am on June 16, 2010

    What about John Brandon? Chloe Hooper? Heather McGowan? Maile Meloy? Miranda July?

  4. bro
    at 10:09 am on June 16, 2010

    c’mon Editor person. we both know Tao Lin “should” be on this list, or any list of writers under 40. he’s more distinctive, influential, innovative (via and memorable than the vast majority of his peers, perhaps than all of his peers. for those living under an internet rock

  5. bro
    at 10:12 am on June 16, 2010

    he’s been on Bookworm, if you need some sort of legitimatizing Serious Literature co-sign:

    sorry, that link above should have been

  6. Tom B.
    at 12:32 pm on June 16, 2010

    Gwen — there are no genre writers on this list or on the NYorker, tho’ Victor Lavalle’s work is influenced by horror. I was going to mention Kelly Link as a great short story writer (and sometime writer of YA) worthy of inclusion, but I see she was born in ’69. Damn.

    I’ve only read a couple of the authors on this list — I have the Orringer novel on order. This list seems comparable to the NYorker’s, and is an indication of how there are a lot of pretty good young writers out there.

  7. Seth Christenfeld
    at 12:40 pm on June 16, 2010

    Curtis Sittenfeld? Deb Olin Unferth? Doug Dorst? Nick Harkaway?

  8. Laryssa
    at 12:40 pm on June 16, 2010

    This is an awesome list. I definitely want to check out Calvin Baker and Chris Bachelder. I made my own list of my favorite 15 under 40, if you’re interested in reading it! You can see the list here: Thanks for keeping the conversation about contemporary fiction alive!

  9. Tom B.
    at 1:56 pm on June 16, 2010

    Nick Harkaway’s British, thus not eligible. (John Le Carre’s son, he is.)

  10. Tom B.
    at 1:59 pm on June 16, 2010

    Laryssa — Kevin Brockmeier is an excellent choice. I’m surprised he wasn’t on either the NYorker or Millions lists.

    at 2:43 pm on June 16, 2010

    […] Millions’ list of 20 More Under 40 includes Jesse Ball, Victor LaValle, Ben Kunkel, Salvador Plascencia, and many others. Tags: 20 […]

  12. rusty shackelford
    at 3:09 pm on June 16, 2010

    Is Kevin Brockmeier too old to qualify? He is infinitely better than Yiyun Li, to name just one who made the cut.

  13. David Backer
    at 3:10 pm on June 16, 2010

    Building a bit on Nate’s comment, I don’t think people who’ve published a lot should be considered merely because of their quantity. It’s a thought-worthy issue: where’s the catch-point between quality and quantity that indicates a promising writing career?

    Blake Butler?

    Also: I recognize that Lin continues talking, but–and this is meant in complete friendliness–for some reason I only feel slightly compelled to continue listening.

  14. tom schuster
    at 3:29 pm on June 16, 2010

    tao lin? blake butler? benjamin percy? kyle minor? robert lopez?


  15. Maire
    at 4:14 pm on June 16, 2010

    Lots to ponder here, but I’m just glad that Samantha Hunt made the list! I was bummed she wasn’t in The New Yorker’s list.

  16. Liz
    at 4:30 pm on June 16, 2010

    Kelly Link, Kevin Brockmeier, yes. Both should have been on there. Maile Meloy, Andrew Sean Greer, Akhil Sharma, Miranda July, Benjamin Percy, Andrew Porter, Paul Yoon, Nam Le?

  17. shana
    at 5:42 pm on June 16, 2010

    Am I the only oldie here who doesn’t know a lot of the names? And I read SO MUCH. I just can’t keep up with all the up-and-coming newbies. Kevin Brockmeier yes, and going back several years. David Benioff 40 this year. Karen Russell, 39.

    I read new stuff a lot and many many of the writers I read are way over 40 and have been writing for decades. You know how it is–can’t wait for the new book by X and I have so many of these must reads every year. The NYT had an essay just a short while ago about the fallacy or was it arbitrariness of under 40. Gave examples of first fiction published by major writers in their 50s and later.

    OK, time to read reviews and finagle a little space in my library queue to add some of these under 40 writers.

  18. Tom B.
    at 6:09 pm on June 16, 2010

    At HTMLGIANT, someone mentioned John Wray. Definitely.

  19. Ann Fernie
    at 5:13 am on June 17, 2010

    Yay, Chris Bachelder.

    40 under 40, please!

  20. s.m.
    at 11:22 am on June 17, 2010

    shana, karen russell is not 39, more like 29.

  21. Alan Heathcock
    at 11:36 am on June 17, 2010

    Anthony Doerr should’ve been on both lists–he’s written three or four of the best stories I’ve ever read, out of authors of any age, any time.

  22. johnny
    at 12:13 pm on June 17, 2010

    why don’t we create a non-fiction list for the aspiring truman capotes of the world? (one of which would include gladwell & co?)

  23. Justin Daugherty
    at 12:52 pm on June 17, 2010

    I would definitely second John Wray and Anthony Doerr on this list. Both are great.

  24. Reading lists « Between the wish and the thing
    at 1:19 pm on June 17, 2010

    […] Also, The Millions, in response to the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40, has 20 more. […]

  25. Random Shit
    at 1:39 pm on June 17, 2010

    […] 20 More Under 40, but then, why bother. […]

  26. Carles
    at 2:21 pm on June 17, 2010

    I think Tao Lin should be disqualified for posting above (as “Bro”) to nominate himself.

  27. Jakob
    at 3:41 pm on June 17, 2010

    This list is absurd. Leave the list-making up to the professionals.

    Kunkel, the most known person on this list, has only one book out but is still the most deserving. The others are mostly from left field.

    The READERR are the king here, the suggestions given in the comments section would make a better list. John Wray. Ed Park, yes. Tao Lin, yes. Deb Olin Unferth. Dave Benioff. MIRANDA JULY. Nam Le. Maile Meloy. All good ideas.

  28. Jakob
    at 3:41 pm on June 17, 2010

    *READERS ! don’t take a typo for ignorance.

  29. Jakob
    at 3:43 pm on June 17, 2010

    Also, Victor LaValle? HA. Come on. amateur hour

  30. T
    at 4:32 pm on June 17, 2010

    Great list. Thanks!

  31. Brandon
    at 6:08 pm on June 17, 2010

    There is always an under-representation and under-appreciation of genre writers on these lists. Especially when it comes to horror. I find this strange. One of the most influential American writers of this century is Stephen King and the majority of his body of work would be considered speculative in nature. His opinions even have a certain power to direct the buying power of the public when choosing books. Now he’s obviously no longer under 40, but why are those writers who follow in the same chosen genre as him often ignored when making these lists?

    I think what it comes down to is that those who spend the time to make these lists spend little time outside of what other lists have suggested they read. I mean this in no way to insult the writers who appear on the lists. I am positive every one of them is very capable and deserving of the praise they receive.

    However, has anyone on this list heard of Nate Kenyon? “The Reach”, “Bloodstone”, “The Boneyard” and “Sparrow Rock” are powerful books that go beyond simply scare and disgust (as most literary-minded readers assume the point of horror fiction is) to describe the unconquerable endurance of the human spirit in the face of the greatest dangers. Or what about Joe Hill, author of “The Heart-shaped Box”, “Horns” and the short story collection “20th Century Ghosts”? That last collection has some of the most incredible short fiction I’ve read in decades. It was awe-inspiring and many of his well-known contempories agree. He is a rare talent.

    Putting a genre label on great writing doesn’t lessen the beauty of the work, just the willingness of “literary” types to read it.

  32. Tom B.
    at 6:32 pm on June 17, 2010

    I just finished “Horns.” It has an emotional depth Hill’s father has rarely been able to achieve.

  33. Brandon
    at 12:13 am on June 18, 2010

    I have to agree. Hill has come farther than his father in a shorter time — for the most part. I still believe that “Bag of Bones” is an achievement that Hill will take much more time to come close to. “Horns” ties in so many plot elements that are driven by emotion and a reflection of the human race in general that it is hard to point to one aspect that makes it a work of written art. He’s still under 40.

  34. Baby Got Books » Ceci n’est-ce pas une Link Dump
    at 8:02 am on June 18, 2010

    […] Millions comes up with their own 20 under 40 list of hot […]

  35. Miscellany 6/20/10 –
    at 7:09 pm on June 20, 2010

    […] X? Why not Y? But, I really love Z! You guys are jerks!–so The Millions published their own second-guessing 20 Under 40. In the comments you’ll find that most people feel they also missed the mark, but […]

  36. Living in a Post-20 Under 40 World « Vol. 1 Brooklyn
    at 12:13 pm on June 21, 2010

    […] really liked some of the names The Millions picked for their 20 more under 40.  Anya Ulinich, Fiona Maazel, and Porochista Khakpour were great choices, and I always wonder if […]

  37. The Second Pass
    at 4:32 pm on June 22, 2010

    […] Millions also recently got in on the game, unleashing a “20 More Under 40″ list. I’ve heard of all 20 on that list, but have only read a handful. Glad to see Tom Bissell and […]

  38. Tom B.
    at 8:14 pm on June 22, 2010

    My copy of WITZ arrived in the mail today — I’ve been flipping through and reading passages – don’t know when I’ll have a free couple of weeks to read it all. From my browsing, it’s clear to me Joshua Cohen deserves a place on the Millions’ list, and I’m surprise he didn’t make The New Yorkers’. The level of ambition and erudition on display is daunting.

  39. Levi Stahl
    at 9:31 am on June 23, 2010

    Looks like Lee Siegel’s not a Millions reader (not that that’s a surprise, mind you), based on the evidence of this impressively ill-informed paragraph from his screed in the Observer today:

    If fiction were really alive, if it were still the vibrant experience it used to be, then an artistic affront like the “20 Under 40” junior pantheon would be something against which literary people would deploy all their creative energies. . . . Where are the counterlists to The New Yorker’s 20? Where is the mischief in . . . the countless online sites devoted to contemporary fiction? Isn’t such sharp dissent what the Web was supposed to empower?

    I would be willing to cut him more slack if he hadn’t bothered to mention online sites; after all, he might just not realize how much is going on in those venues. But he did mention them . . . without, it seems, having bothered to do any investigating to see whether what he contended wasn’t happening really wasn’t happening.

  40. Levi Stahl
    at 9:31 am on June 23, 2010

    Oh, and I meant to include the link: here’s the Observer piece:

  41. Simon
    at 9:44 am on June 23, 2010

    Chloe Hooper and Nam Le are Australian, and we’re going to hang on to them for as long as we can!

    This is a very interesting list, I’m particularly glad to see Joshua Cohen and Benjamin Kunkel being recognised.

  42. Restless Reader » Blog Archive » The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40
    at 10:20 am on June 25, 2010

    […] The Millions – 20 More Under 40 […]

  43. "Writers to Watch" in Atlanta |
    at 5:21 pm on June 27, 2010

    […] from lit blog The Millions that followed similar guidelines to create a non-overlapping list. Their “alternate-universe” picks include Chris Bachelder, Myla Goldberg, Victor LaValle, and number of other established young […]

  44. marginalia || The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt « Sasha & The Silverfish
    at 4:54 pm on July 14, 2010

    […] Else, and bought it because a] I like the title, b] Hunt was part of The Millions’ “20 More Under 40” — that article called Invention “a fabulist meditation on Nikola Tesla.” […]

  45. A Series of Unfortunate Lists | Like Fire
    at 9:18 pm on August 29, 2010

    […] year alone we’ve had the New Yorker’s favorite 20 writers under 40, which spawned lists of 20 More Under 40, Over 40 Over 40, 50 Over 50, and 10 Over 80—all of which starts sounding like a lot of really […]

  46. The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” Emberto Eco on the power of lists, and how to navigate a million books a year « Frank Bures
    at 9:51 am on December 28, 2010

    […] amid backlash came a procession of alternative lists: 20 more under 40, 10 over 80, 41 over 40, and so on, while others cataloged the most overrated writers, the most […]

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