Sam Anderson, book critic for New York Magazine, wrote a great piece called When Lit Blew Into Bits. He spins a cogent narrative about the evolution of literature in the aughts, a time of massively multi-platform, multi-text and content-riddled genres that “seem not only to siphon our attention but to change the way our brains process text.”

Great passage from the piece:

What new species of books, then, have proved themselves fit to survive in the attentional ecosystem of the aughts? What kind of novel, if any, can appeal to readers who read with 34 nested browser tabs open simultaneously on their frontal lobes? And, for that matter, what kind of novel gets written by novelists who spend increasing chunks of their own time reading words off screens?

I found myself drawn, this decade, in the gaps between blog reading, to a very particular kind of novel. Not to sound all techno-deterministic here, because the loops of influence are obviously complex, but many of my favorite aughts novels are those that mimic (or thematize, or rejigger, or one-up) the experience of reading online. They show quasi-bloggish tendencies: They’re relatively short, deeply style-conscious, and built out of text fragments narrated by radically diverse voices. Cohesion seems less a textual given than a tenuous miracle that takes every ounce of a writer’s artistry and genius to pull off.

Anderson quotes Roberto Bolaño from his massive 900-page aught epic 2666: “We are increasingly fluent in images with no handhold, images freighted with all the orphanhood in the world, fragments, fragments.”

What a sentence.

Anderson’s book of the decade? (I can’t help it, it’s my love of lists so bear with me here.) Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I adored the book. I found Anderson’s contextualizing of Díaz’s genius (he refers to the book’s “webbiness”—yes!) very insightful:

If there is a signature novel of the aughts—one book that most artfully co-opted our newfangled webbiness, that allowed itself to feel simultaneously major and small, that anchored its post-postmodern gimmickry in solid fictional ground—it was Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). It took Díaz, famously, eleven years to follow his first book, the short-story collection Drown, with Oscar Wao—the same amount of time it took Tom Wolfe to write his 750-page A Man in Full. Instead of pouring that time and energy into making Oscar Wao long and sprawling and sweeping and universal, Díaz made the book radically particular and condensed. It performs classic meganovel services— tracking a family through several generations, telling the history of an entire nation—in 350 pages. It’s rare to find a novel so short so often referred to as “epic.”

The really stunning thing about Oscar Wao, in true aughts fashion, is its style. Díaz turns the book over to a small crowd of narrators, each of whom seems to channel 100 different subcultures and dialects. The result is a reference-studded Spanglish loaded so densely with extratextual shout-outs (ringwraiths, Le Corbusier, Joseph Conrad’s wife) it practically requires the web as an unofficial appendix. The book could have been sponsored by Google and Wikipedia; you either have to consult them constantly or just surrender to the vastness of the knowledge you don’t have—which is, of course, its own kind of pleasure.

Lots to consider here.

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