The Modern Novel or Why I Am Here

When I decided to do this blog, I vowed to myself that it would not be about literary prizes. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I am not particularly interested in them though, of course, I do get caught up in the hype for the Man Booker and Nobel.  Secondly, other bloggers do this very well so I am not sure that I can add much value.  So, as a result, my first four posts on this blog were about literary prizes. My excuse is that a) it was  Man Booker and Nobel season and b) that I have strong views on both (as regards process and content).  The two prizes are over for this year and, though I may come back to them, in order to comment in general terms, enough of this year’s prizes.

So this post will be a start of my explanation of why this blog or, rather, why my site, the Modern Novel came into being.

It actually started in 1998 when I first decided to create this site. I was inspired by Martin Seymour-Smith’s seminal New Guide to Modern World Literature. It may have been intended as as reference book but I read it from cover to cover and found recommendations for all sorts of writers I was unaware of or only somewhat unaware of. Of course, the trouble with a book like that is that it soon goes out of print and/or becomes outdated. I kept hoping that he would update it but, sadly he never did. When he died in 1998, it was obvious that he would not publish a new edition and it seemed unlikely that anyone else would take on the task. By this time, the Internet was in full swing and it was clear to me that this would be the ideal way to put this sort of information out. I could never hope to match Seymour-Smith in erudition, energy and writing skills but I could, perhaps, make a modest contribution. I did rather expect to have something going in two or three years but, of course, life got in the way, both professional and personal and it also took much longer than I expected. There are still numerous books that should be on here that are not but I have been persuaded by my significant other that I should go ahead with it, very incomplete though it is, so here it is. Books and authors will be added as and when but I will never come close to matching Seymour-Smith.

I would rather have expected that someone else would have done this by now but there are really only two sites that I am aware of that have attempted this sort of effort. This is not to disparage the many very wonderful blogs and other literary sites out there but most do seem to focus on a fairly narrow range of countries and limit themselves to books published in their own languages. The two exceptions are, obviously, Wikipedia (in its various language versions) and The Complete Review. The former needs no introduction though I would just say that, while there are many interesting entries, it can be frustrating, both as regards incomplete entries and, in some cases, clearly erroneous entries. Michael Orthofer’s The Complete Review is without doubt the best site on the web. Had it existed before I started or had I discovered it sooner, I may not have attempted my site but, by the time I did discover it, I was well advanced in design and layout, if not content, so I carried on, not least because two sites in English on foreign literature is still not enough.  He seems to read a book almost every day as well as produce a <a href=””>a very useful blog</a> every day of the year, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4 and every other holiday you can think of.

I suspect that no-one is reading this blog right now, except perhaps a few close friends and family members, but people may read this later, so I will say that I intend, in this blog, to talk more about the site, its whys and its wherefores and discuss such matters as the canon, women writers, why US literature dominates on this site and, yes, maybe even literary prizes.