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Book cover of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

by Jane Smiley

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 608
Paperback
ISBN: 9781400033188






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Overview of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling novelist Jane Smiley celebrates the novel–and takes us on an exhilarating tour through one hundred of them–in this seductive and immensely rewarding literary tribute.

In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley explores the power of the novel, looking at its history and variety, its cultural impact, and just how it works its magic. She invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. And she offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. As she works her way through one hundred novels–from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith and Alice Munro–she infects us anew with the passion for reading that is the governing spirit of this gift to book lovers everywhere.

Synopsis of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

Over an extraordinary twenty-year career, Jane Smiley has written all kinds of novels: mystery, comedy, historical fiction, epic. “Is there anything Jane Smiley cannot do?” raves Time magazine. But in the wake of 9/11, Smiley faltered in her hitherto unflagging impulse to write and decided to approach novels from a different angle: she read one hundred of them, from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith, Nicholson Baker, and Alice Munro.

Smiley explores–as no novelist has before her–the unparalleled intimacy of reading, why a novel succeeds (or doesn’t), and how the novel has changed over time. She describes a novelist as “right on the cusp between someone who knows everything and someone who knows nothing,” yet whose “job and ambition is to develop a theory of how it feels to be alive.”

In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. She walks us step-by-step through the publication of her most recent novel, Good Faith, and, in two vital chapters on how to write “a novel of your own,” offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel may amount to a peculiar form of autobiography. We see Smiley reading in bed with a chocolate bar; mulling over plot twists while cooking dinner for her family; even, at the age of twelve, devouring Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which she later realized were among her earliest literary models for plot andcharacter.

And in an exhilarating conclusion, Smiley considers individually the one hundred books she read, from Don Quixote to Lolita to Atonement, presenting her own insights and often controversial opinions. In its scope and gleeful eclecticism, her reading list is one of the most compelling–and surprising–ever assembled.

Engaging, wise, sometimes irreverent, Thirteen Ways is essential reading for anyone who has ever escaped into the pages of a novel or, for that matter, wanted to write one. In Smiley’s own words, ones she found herself turning to over the course of her journey: “Read this. I bet you’ll like it.”

Publishers Weekly

Plagued by a sense of despair while writing her last novel, Good Faith, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley (A Thousand Acres, etc.) decided to return to the enterprise that got her started as a writer: reading. The result is a book that sets out to investigate the novel itself. Smiley does not offer a radically new way of seeing the novel. Instead, her study is methodical and cumulative, producing a wonderful text, opinionated but not argumentative, instructive but not heavily theoretical text. The book is roughly divided into three sections: the first classifies the novel, beginning with the most simple of definitions (e.g., it's long, in prose, has a protagonist), and adds moral and aesthetic complexity as it moves along. The second section consists of a primer for fledgling novelists. Here Smiley's years as a writing instructor show; her attitude toward all potential novelists is open-minded and generous, acknowledging the difficulty of the project while providing encouragement to continue. Finally, the book turns to the hundred novels she chose to read, from The Tale of Genji and Don Quixote to White Teeth and Atonement, devoting a few pages to a consideration of each. The result is a thorough reflection on the art and craft of the novel from one of its best-known contemporary practitioners.50,000 first printing. (Sept. 15) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

About the Author, Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley's power as a writer lies in her ability to evoke her chosen milieu, no matter how far-flung. The Pulitzer winner is able to vary her settings -- from 14th-century Greenland to a modern-day college campus -- as well as her tone, never missing a beat.

Reviews of 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

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Editorials

Publishers Weekly

Plagued by a sense of despair while writing her last novel, Good Faith, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley (A Thousand Acres, etc.) decided to return to the enterprise that got her started as a writer: reading. The result is a book that sets out to investigate the novel itself. Smiley does not offer a radically new way of seeing the novel. Instead, her study is methodical and cumulative, producing a wonderful text, opinionated but not argumentative, instructive but not heavily theoretical text. The book is roughly divided into three sections: the first classifies the novel, beginning with the most simple of definitions (e.g., it's long, in prose, has a protagonist), and adds moral and aesthetic complexity as it moves along. The second section consists of a primer for fledgling novelists. Here Smiley's years as a writing instructor show; her attitude toward all potential novelists is open-minded and generous, acknowledging the difficulty of the project while providing encouragement to continue. Finally, the book turns to the hundred novels she chose to read, from The Tale of Genji and Don Quixote to White Teeth and Atonement, devoting a few pages to a consideration of each. The result is a thorough reflection on the art and craft of the novel from one of its best-known contemporary practitioners.50,000 first printing. (Sept. 15) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal

In her introduction, novelist Smiley (A Thousand Acres) describes feeling "diminished inventiveness as well as diminished pleasure" in her attempts at writing. Her solution: stop trying to write and instead begin to read. The result is an annotated list of 100 novels with plot synopses and analyses, preceded by 12 chapters exploring the concept of the novel (e.g., its origins; the psychological and moral aspects at play in creating one). Thirteen is written in a relaxed style that makes the combination of analysis and Smiley's own experience as an author enjoyable to read. Her list of 100 novels is not made up of her favorites or what she considers the "best"-in fact, she readily admits her choices are arbitrary; that almost any 100 "serious" novels would do-but rather "a list that would illuminate the whole concept of the novel." Interestingly, her selections say as much about Smiley as they do about the novels themselves. A useful reference for authors, teachers, or those looking to expand their summer reading lists, this book is recommended for academic libraries of all sizes. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/05.]-Felicity D. Walsh, Emory Univ. Lib., Decatur, GA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

Bracing literary criticism from a practitioner's point of view. Bogged down in the midst of writing a novel she didn't much like, fearing at age 52 that she was running out of inspiration, Smiley (Horse Heaven, 2000, etc.) decided in 2001 to read 100 novels-not a "Hundred Greatest," she is quick to stipulate, "only a list of individual novels that would illuminate the whole concept of the novel." The resulting book offers 12 chapters on various aspects of the form ("The Origins of the Novel," "The Novel and History," etc.) and a 13th with 101 short essays on individual titles (Jennifer Egan's Look at Me got added after Smiley read it on a post-project vacation). Naturally, the author's selections and judgments reflect her sensibility and artistic convictions. She's capable of appreciating a modernist classic like Ulysses, but she writes far more enthusiastically about other works, from The Princess of Cleves to Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Whether praising or damning-The Great Gatsby is among the books that get severe though never nasty appraisals-Smiley approaches literature in a refreshingly direct, unpretentious way. She considers Lady Murasaki and Boccaccio her peers just as much as John Updike and Ian McEwan; you never forget in her down-to-earth assessments that novels are written by and about human beings. She likes Daniel Defoe for "his habit of giving advice and yet forgiving his characters' trespasses"; she dislikes Henry James's "prissy, domineering manner." There are funny, apt phrases on every page, and Smiley's analysis of the novel's evolution over a millennium is cogent and convincing. Her "case history" of Good Faith (2003), the manuscript whose bumpy progress prompted her100-novel intermission, offers a fascinating look at the working writer's life. What ties together the casually organized text is Smiley's profound love for her chosen genre, an art form she believes is accessible to everyone because "the novel is based on the most primal human materials, emotion and language."Stimulating, provocative and unfailingly intelligent-in short, vintage Smiley. First printing of 50,000

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