A writer, asked during a literary party what her new novel was about, turned on the questioner with an expression combining irritation, indignation, and pity, and replied, "My novels aren't about things!" Some time later, this same writer would denounce Stephen King in print for hogging the marketplace and for his alleged role in censoring her work, since his works were widely displayed in bookstores while hers were not.
A publisher, when told that an agreement had been made whereby Barnes & Noble would help to promote, on an annual basis and free of charge, a certain type of generally difficult book, twisted her face into a sneer and proclaimed, "That is not a neutral act!" Not long after, this publisher would be heard singing the praises of an independent bookstore whose manager was known to denounce certain customers as unworthy of his attention.
An editor, queried about his range of interests, replied, "Well, I'm not interested in books per se; I'm more interested in the metaphysics of thought, in the gray areas of language, and particularly in the flow of the cosmic."
While this third incident is not, like the first two, literally true, the mindset that it illustrates does represent a problem for fiction and for those writers, critics, editors, and academics who seek to advance its cause: the struggle between the elitist, standoffish supporters of a self-consciously...