English 125E

The (Really) Contemporary Novel

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2010 Serpell, C. Namwali
Serpell, Namwali
MW 3-4 + Discussion F 3-4 160 Kroeber

Other Readings and Media

Smith,  Z.: White Teeth; McEwan,  I.: Atonement; Mitchell,  D.: Cloud Atlas; Foer,  J. S.: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; McCarthy,  C.: The Road; Diaz,  J.: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Recommended: Robinson,  M.: Gilead; Ishiguro,  K.: Never Let Me Go


We who study literature are perhaps inexorably belated. But this course aims to redefine at least one temporally muddled literary term: the “contemporary,” a period that sometimes stretches as far back as 1950 in academic parlance. I protest! It ought to mean NOW. And so: a survey of novels written by Americans and Brits since 2000. That is, novels written during your lifetime.

We will be interested in historical context, forms of beauty, ways of knowing, and the ethical and political resonance of the literature of this period. We will pose simple questions about reading as it takes place now in the West: Who reads? What do we read? Why do we read? How do we read? We will examine: debates about the status of the novel, competing genres, new modes of production and distribution, and what the contemporary means, anyway. Finally, we will want to consider how these novelists are reshaping the map of the Western canon, by questioning exactly what counts and why. The reading will include six novels, selected reviews of them, and recent published debates—journalistic and academic—about the contemporary novel. An average of 200 pages of reading per week. Two papers (5-7 pp); ID midterm; ID and essay final. For a head start, read either Gilead or Never Let Me Go as you will have to read one of them on your own time during the course of the semester.

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