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13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane…

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (edition 2006)

by Jane Smiley

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Title:13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
Authors:Jane Smiley
Info:Anchor (2006), Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:TBR 2012 & PRIOR

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13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley



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alright... so. this was a very frustrating read for me. at moments, smiley could not have been more spot-on and offered some very valuable gems. at other moments, i just wanted to call 'bullshit!' on some of her commentary. (in the early part of the book, not during the part where she shares her notes on the 100 books. one example came when she started talking about the ages of writers.) and then, at other moments, i found the smiley's insertion of herself so totally inappropriate (one example: right from the get-go (so that, unfortunately, got my defences up very early) when she notes some fairly legendary authors who share a birth month, then says 'me too!'. pfft. completely unnecessary.) it makes sense to me that smiley would talk about her own books and processes in the two later chapters that are aimed at writers and deal with writing novels. but each time she mentioned her own work in the earlier chapters, i wanted to stop reading the book. i was drawn to 13 ways.. because of the broad study it offered. i don't know that i would have such interest in reading a book only about smiley? look, i have read only two novels by smiley: A Thousand Acres and Moo. i read them years ago. i recall i liked them and smiley is definitely someone i planned to read more of (and i have her two latests books on my shelves). so i really had no strong opinion about smiley going into this read. what i did know about her made me think this would be worth reading. but there is a tone i felt while read 13 ways... that was really off-putting. it was part snob, part know-it-all, with moments of giant ego. i am not sure if this says more about me as the reader, though? although it was annoying to have to sift through so much.... stuff (and there was quite a bit of repetition too, and i really felt this read to be a slog at moments) to get to the interesting and useful bits, i did find those moments so good and really helpful. i read this in e-pub format, and it wasn't well done. so i do plan to acquire a hardcopy. i think it is a good resource for my books on writing collection, as i will probably want to reference very specific parts again. beyond that, i think i will stick to smiley's fiction, in the future. ( )
  Booktrovert | May 19, 2015 |
It's not easy reading but is useful for English majors who want a refresher so they don't forget everything they learned. It was long and her review of essential novels starts at the half way mark of the book. The novels she chose are straight from my undergrad syllabus. It was nice to get another take on their significance and to hear her intelligent analysis. ( )
  Atsa | May 31, 2013 |
The first 7 or 8 chapters were good or great, so I was willing to continue reading through the strange mix of book report and diary that the final "ways of looking at a novel" encompassed. By the 13th, though, I really didn't care about and in some ways actively disliked the author's point of view. I didn't venture into the summaries of 100 novels that followed. ( )
  breakerfallen | Apr 4, 2013 |
I think I may have to buy this book.

I didn't *love* it, but it's an academic book, and dense, and there's a lot I want to review.

However long it's been on my "currently reading" list, it didn't actually take me 7 months to read. But the library kept taking it back, and it wasn't something meant to read in one sitting.

Smiley is insightful and intelligently articulates what she thinks the novel is, which I must admit I don't fully agree with. Nevertheless, she argues well for her position, and though she seems to want to orient novels in more political landscape than I think is always necessary, she is consistent in discussing the novel in her terms, and it doesn't get confusing. I may not always agree, especailly when she discusses her political position, but it never overwhelms the thesis of the book.

However, because she talks politics, when she uses the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' as literary poles, I don't know what she meant. It unnecessarily confused the issue.

At the very least, I added some 90 books of her list of 101 to my TBR list (just what it needed). And I could use this book on my shelf...it's useful enough to come to again and again. ( )
  MarieAlt | Mar 31, 2013 |
A novel is “a long story bound enticingly between the closed covers of a book.” That, it turns out, is about as comprehensive a description of “the novel” as one is likely to get. At her best, Smiley humbly acknowledges the irreducibility of “the novel”. Unfortunately, the first half of 13 Ways does not always display Smiley at her best. Instead, through chapters exploring such matters as what a novel is, who is a novelist, morality and the novel, the art of the novel, and more, Smiley evinces a seeming compulsion to render. Thus the preponderance of universal claims beginning, “All novels…,” or, “Every novel…,” and so forth. None is convincing. At times they seem naïve, wilful, petulant. They culminate in a dubiously singular analytical theory that Smiley dubs “the circle of the novel”.

My advice is to set aside the first half of 13 Ways and start in around page 270. The following 300 pages consists in brief summaries and observations of two to three pages in length on each of 100 novels, a representative sampling from the history of novel writing (as opposed to a ‘best of’ selection). In these pages Jane Smiley earns our trust. Each novel is considered on its merits, unfiltered by cod theories. We see a sensitive and sensible reader, responsive to the texts, challenging but also willing to be challenged. Perhaps not surprisingly there is a complete absence of ponderous pronouncements on “the novel”. One gets the impression that in her heart Smiley knows that each novel of merit stands on its own creating its own universals from its own particularities. Thus Smiley notes that “really, in the end, all the reader can say is, ‘Read this. I bet you’ll like it.’”

And in the end, I did like 13 Ways, despite my increasing annoyance as I plodded through the first 270 pages. I’m so glad I continued on to read the whole of the remarks on her set of 100 novels (I only wish now that Smiley had been able to fulfil her original goal of a set of 275). On novels that I already knew well, I found Smiley’s observations invariably insightful. On novels that I knew of but have not yet read, I found new reasons to pick them up. And for those novels that were entirely new to me, I can only say that my potential reading world is now somewhat enlarged. You may, like me, finish by wishing that Jane Smiley (or some other sensitive and sensible reader) could provide comparable insights for every book you hope to read, or have already read and might now read again. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Jan 24, 2012 |
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We are not told of things that happened to specific people exactly as they happened; but the beginning is when there are good things and bad things, things that happen in this life which one never tires of seeing and hearing about, things which one cannot bear not to tell of and must pass on for all generations. If the storyteller wishes to speak well, then he chooses the good things; and if he wishes to hold the reader's attention he chooses bad things, extraordinarily bad things. Good things and bad things alike, they are the things of this world and no other. -- Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
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"Jane Smiley explores - as no novelist has before - 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."" "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 chapters on how to write "a novel of your own," offers advice to aspiring writers." "And in the 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. 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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