New Campus Age

Learned Vol. 4, Issue 18

This week: A bit more about the venerable bildungsroman with a few other words thrown in. Then an editorial about language change and some footnotes. Here we go.

During last week’s research into bildungsroman, a few things came up that I thought deserved a little bit of consideration, so I thought I’d use this week as a follow-up to that.  You don’t need to have read last week’s letter to keep up with this week’s, but I am going to use the term bildungsroman a lot.  Oh, and mild spoilers for both the Harry Potter and The Magicians series of books.

Bildungsroman, as a term, is both a little dated1 and overly academic.  As I noted last week, although not entirely interchangeable (from an academic perspective, at least), the far more common term is coming-of-age story.  But two other terms I came across brought up changes in the idea of genre2 and how it should be applied to help readers find new stories.  First the terms, then the changing nature of genre.

In 1995, there were three things every dorm room had to have - a copy of Bob Marley and the Wailers Greatest Hits, a sofa of dubious safety and cleanliness, and a torn poster of John Belushi, circa 1981 wearing a sweatshirt that said "college."  Twenty-five years later, these same items might be set pieces used to shortcut and ground a sitcom or drama set at a university.  By extension, these same shortcuts could set the scene for a college novel3.

The campus novel is, as you might guess, a novel set in and around an academic institution.  Only, unlike a bildungsroman, the protagonists can be any age, rather than a student.  Wikipedia traces the genre back to the 1950s and cites The Groves of Academia by Mary McCarthy as the earliest example.

The other term that might be applied to a story about a young person at college, or at least college age is New Adult Fiction.  The idea is that these stories focus on characters in their late teens to early twenties.  In other words, these are the stories of people on the verge of legal adulthood and the trials they face in life.  It is meant to be a direct counterpoint to YA, or young-adult fiction, where the characters are often in their early teen years.

As an example, consider Harry Potter and The Magicians.  Leaving aside the magical, fantasy elements, let's look at just the similarities.  Both series open with their protagonists going away to school.  Harry to Hogwarts and Quentin to Brakebills.  Both stories have their main characters experience severe culture shock and begin undergoing the longer series of events that will eventually change them into more mature, more fully realized versions of themselves.  Only, Harry is eleven at the start of his journey and Quentin is seventeen.

Is this the only difference that makes one a YA novel and the other a NA novel?  After all, the stakes are similar in both series - the end of the world with plenty of death and life-altering trauma along the way.  Is it the more blatant sex in the world of the Magicians?  Sex is hinted at but never explicitly stated in the Harry Potter books4.

The writing styles are certainly different.  The Harry Potter books are fun.  They're light (in the early series) and the world-building is clever and playful.  The Magicians books, by contrast, are not fun.  They are dark and brooding and magic almost has more consequences than it does benefits.

But the real difference is how they deal with the aftermath of the events in the books.  In Harry Potter, while there are some hints of lasting repercussions, for the most part, by the time the story is done, everything has gone on to be a newer, happier, well-adjusted ever after.  In the Magicians, every event causes trauma and these traumas build on each other creating permanent changes in the characters to whom they happen.  There is no happily ever after.  There is only after5.

So, what do we call these stories with similar plots but wildly different tones?  Both series could be called bildungsroman, coming-of-age, or campus novels.  But, the Magicians is decidedly a New Adult story while Harry Potter is a Young Adult story6.

And here’s the point about genres I want to make and I’m just going to awkwardly shoehorn it in here because, man, this is getting long:  for the past few decades, we’ve had genres defined by the type of tropes inherent in the story - action, romance, mystery, western - but these new terms that are near-synonymous with the outmoded bildungsroman seem to suggest an ongoing return to developmental age as genre.  But this is just a brief outlier on genres new path: I don’t think that’s where the publishing industry is headed.  Instead, I think genre will continue to evolve down paths currently being defined by fan-fiction and by non-English-originated sources like anime and manga7.

And so there you have it the older genre coming around again in new clothes to redefine how we think about and categorize the stories we read.  Next week, another old genre in new clothes, because why stop now?

Editorial Linguistics

The big news this week for sports fans is that Cleveland’s baseball team has formally become the Cleveland Guardians.  As team names go, I think it’s fine.  It’s a pretty basic name, right up there with Defenders or Fighters, but it ties in nicely to local history and, most importantly, isn’t offensive to a marginalized group of people.

But what I think is most important is that, by changing the name, Cleveland has reminded us just how adaptable and malleable our language is.  In other words, changing names should be a non-issue, just as using someone’s preferred pronouns should be a non-issue.  And this is what Cleveland has done well, in my view.  As I understand it, they explained their understanding of the issue and why the name needed to change, solicited ideas from the fans, and then workshopped the final candidates until they arrived at something more suitable.

It’s worth noting and remembering that whenever something is presented as “unchangeable because of tradition and history” it’s usually bullshit.  History isn’t that long and it’s rarely as black and white as it’s presented as being.  Tradition is even worse.  How many of us truly have traditions that we can say for absolute certain go back any further than our grandparents?

To study language is to study change.  Traditions and history are rooted in and defined by the language we use.  We live in a time with an ever-expanding of linguistics and how languages work and we speak a language whose most salient feature in making it an international business tongue is its willful malleability.  Whenever we’re presented with a need to change our language, our only consideration should be how best to do so, never why we have to.

Stay curious,

J

1

Seriously, have you ever used it in conversation?  Had you even heard the term before last week?  I hadn’t and I study this crap.

2

90% of genre is marketing bullshit, but it is effective and occasionally useful marketing bullshit.  And, given that the internet and online shopping has created infinite bookshelf space that can be categorized and sub-categorized down to the nth degree, expect to see the boundaries of genre get exploded in the coming years.

3

I’m making more of an effort to be more mindful of copyrights and whatnot these days, so, even though the internet is still designed to make everything infinitely copyable, I’m not going to put the poster in this newsletter.  Here’s a link to a google search if you’re really curious.

4

The Maurader's Map from the movies notwithstanding.

5

I should note that Lev Grossman originally wrote the Magicians as a reaction to Harry Potter and the Narnia books.  He wanted to make a more grown-up version of the story.  

6

It has been argued that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are adults by the end of the last book and some fans split the series into two parts, with the first four being YA and the latter three being NA.

7

Fan-fiction can be defined by the emotion it’s meant to elicit in the reader or by the relationship of the main characters; anime and manga are defined by a combination of relationships and tropes.

Bildungswhatnow?

Learned Vol. 4, Issue 17

This week: What’s a bildungsroman novel and why isn’t Norwegian Wood one? It all depends on your definition of “adult.” Then a quick request for a little conversation from y’all and the usual footnotes. Here we go.

Haruki Murakami’s 1987 novel Norwegian Wood is one of those intensely moving, cathartically emotional, and mournfully haunting stories that follows you long after you close the book’s final chapters. It‘s been just about twenty years since I read it, and if the details and plot specifics have become blurry, the emotional scar tissue it left on my brain is as clearly defined as ever.

The story itself is mundane, almost pedestrian.  A middle-aged man hears a Beatles song on the radio and it sends him into a reminiscence of his younger days as a university student.  The events that transpired during that time, although rarely explicitly told, reveal the enormity of other people’s impacts on our psyches, especially during our formative years.  It is a beautiful, sad, deeply moving novel, one that I am so glad I read and that I will never read again1.

Norwegian Wood served as something of a statement of theme for Murakami2. He had written stories and novels in the bildungsroman genre before, but after the success and impact of Norwegian Wood, it became a sort of home base to which he would return often enough that other, later novels can be viewed as a continuation of protagonist Watanabe’s journey to adulthood, even if the ostensible names have been changed3. And, in fact, Norwegian Wood is cited on Wikipedia’s list of bildungsroman novels and this…doesn’t sound quite right to me.

A bildungsroman novel is a story of a person’s formative years or their journey from the last pangs of adolescence to being a fully-formed adult. It’s similar, in its way, to the coming-of-age novel but without being exactly the same. Here’s a good definition from the staff blog on Masterclass.com4:

A coming-of-age story is a catch-all term for a novel about growing up that can fall into nearly any genre; a Bildungsroman is a specific genre of literature about the growth and education that a character undergoes from lost child to mature adult. Many novels about maturation can be considered coming-of-age stories, but not all of them can be considered a Bildungsroman.

Under this definition, Norwegian Wood, in which several of the characters, including the principal protagonist, are university students, literally in the midst of their education and the (arguably) final growth stage before adulthood, qualifies as a bildungsroman.  But, under that same definition, a novel like Tom Sawyer would be more of a coming-of-age story as it tells of Tom's adventures during his childhood.  But, because at the end of the novel, Tom is still a child, albeit a mature and clever one, it can't be called a bildungsroman5.

But, as I said above, I’m not sure I agree. And I’m going to insert a spoiler warning here — if you plan to read Norwegian Wood, skip this paragraph and go on to the next one. Right. So, to me, a bildungsroman is wrapped up neatly at the end. All the characters have achieved a level of emotional maturity and are able to more readily able with the next stage of their lives. Only, as the first chapter of Norwegian Wood shows, Toru has been so haunted by the events of the last chapter that he has spent the next decade and a half of his life in a state of arrested emotional development. He may physically be a mature adult at the end of the novel, but he’s not an emotionally mature adult. At least, not in my reading of it. End spoiler.

So, which definitions of maturity and adulthood are we to use? Looking at some of the other books on Wikipedia’s list, the definition of a mature adult becomes a little fuzzy around the edges. Are the women of Little Women adults by the end of the story? Is Ender from Ender’s game? How about Paul Atreides from Dune6? I’d argue that the answer to all of these is, “Yeah, kinda.” But maybe that’s the point of literary genres in the first place - to make us question the conventions found within the genre’s borders and limitations, to maybe force a conversation about a given genre and when and how it needs to change?

Conversationally Yours

So, I’m curious. As I said below, in the footnotes, I stalled on reading through Murakami’s catalog with the novel IQ84. I haven’t read any of his works newer than that one. Another example I could give would be Jonathan Lethem - I read everything from Gun, With Occasional Music to You Don’t Love Me Yet and just stopped. Or John Irving. I read everything up to The Fourth Hand and then…nothing. So, am I alone in this? Are their authors where you go through their entire catalog and then just stop one day? If so, who are they? What made you stop? Leave a comment or send me an email, I’d love to hear from you either way.

Stay curious,

J

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1

Most of us have a list of books and movies like this, I think.  I mean, it's a regular question on book and movie forums.  My list has Norwegian Wood, the movie Dancer in the Dark, and a whole host of other stories.  The number one and two spots, though, are reserved for Bridge to Terabithia and Where the Red Fern Grows.  Nope.  Never again.

2

I’ve read a lot of Murakami; I’ve read most of the ones available in English and a couple of the stories in the original Japanese. I find that, like a lot of authors I admire, their work falls off for me about mid-career and I end up stalling out on reading the back half of their catalog. In this case, it was 1Q84 that stalled out and I have never been quite able to figure out why.  Also, for what it's worth, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an absolute masterpiece and one I would put alongside 100 Years of Solitude in a literature curriculum for their insights into how we collectively shape the world around us through our imaginations far more than through our actions.

3

Or, at least, that’s the thesis I’m going to write if I ever go back to school for a degree in Japanese literature. For the curious, I maintain that South of the Border, West of the Sun’s Hajime is just a slightly more grown-up version of Norwegian Wood’s Toru.

4

I have been seeing ads for Masterclass courses all over the place, mainly because the Algorithm knows I'm into online learning, I suppose, but this is the first time I've come across their blog.  There are a lot of informative articles there.  Who knew?

5

I mean, it can.  It's just a question of how pedantic you really want to be and for this particular essay, I'm leaning all the way in.

6

I'll add a more recent novel to the list, one that Wikipedia's many editors may not yet be aware of.  The Art of Fielding is a really good novel that manages to combine the unlikely elements of baseball, Moby Dick, and falling in love into an unlikely stew that is hard to put down.  Here's an affiliate link if you're interested.

Quixotic Burlesque

Learned Vol. 4, Issue 16

This week: Why is Don Quixote considered a burlesque novel? Maybe burlesque doesn’t mean what I think it means? We figure it out. Plus a quick look at some recent photo news that I found interesting and the usual footnotes. Let’s get to it.

I'm reading Don Quixote at the moment1.  More importantly, I'm reading a version that was translated to English in the mid-1800s.  This means there are a whole lot of references and allusions that I have had to look up; there have been so many I started keeping lists.  By far, my favorite list is "Words Used In a Way I Didn't Know They Could Be Used."  The word I'm going to talk about this week comes directly from that list, from the introduction to the book, where the translator refers to the entire story of Don Quixote as a burlesque.

Uhm, what?

If asked, I would have told you that burlesque is a kind of stage show2. One that comes from the vaudeville era and usually includes some ladies removing a lot of their clothing. Feather boas may or may not be involved. And the dictionary would back me up. Here’s the definition from Cambridge3:

a type of theatre entertainment in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that had funny acts and a striptease

It’s just that that’s not the only, or even the first, definition of the word. Cambridge continues:

a type of writing or acting that tries to make something serious seem stupid

This is, inarguably, a much better fit for a work like Don Quixote. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote as a send-up of stories of chivalry and knight-errantry. He took the ideas and tropes of a literary genre and purposely tried to diminish it through the actions of his central character, Quixote.

Definitions from other dictionaries support this. Collins-Cobuild:

A burlesque is a performance or a piece of writing that makes fun of something by copying it in an exaggerated way.

And Merriam-Webster4:

  1. a literary or dramatic work that seeks to ridicule by means of grotesque exaggeration or comic imitation

  2. mockery usually by caricature

I think what’s most salient here is that Cervantes parodied the romantic knight stories intentionally; the creation of Quixote was a malicious act. Cervantes did not approach his work as “oh, let’s make a story about a knight but funny,” but rather as, “what is the most ridiculous thing a person could do while still being able to call himself a chivalrous knight?” In other words, much like Lewis Carroll would do with Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland a few centuries later, Cervantes wrote a comical novel meant to absolutely skewer the perceptions of his audience.

This begs the question, how did the same word come to be applied to both a satiric literary genre and a sexy stage show? Etymology online has a few hints, beginning with its original meaning, which arose in the 18th century:

The more precise adjectival meaning "tending to excite laughter by ludicrous contrast between the subject and the manner of treating it" is attested in English by 1700.

The site goes on to say that the secondary, stage-show-related meaning of the term arose by the end of the 19th century. They suggest that some closing sketches of stage shows were described as burlesques5. Then, as these closing shows changed from satire to stripteases6, the word stayed on the playbill thereby acquiring its new definition.

Notes from the News

I’m putting in a new section this week because I came across a really interesting piece in the New York Times that I wanted to share, Women Who Shaped Modern Photography. The piece discusses an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “The New Woman Behind the Camera.” The exhibition and the article showcase female photographers who may have been all but unknown except through their work.

For centuries before they went New, women had been objectified and observed as few men were likely to be. Picking up the camera didn’t pull eyes away from a New Woman; it could put her all the more clearly on view.

As the hidden roles of women in history have gotten more attention over the past few years (with documentaries about the women “computers” at NASA as well as the Mercury 13, among many others) and shed more light on how gendered our history classes were, articles and exhibitions like this play a huge part in helping us come to terms with an imperfect understanding of how the world has been shaped and on what we can do to reshape it.

Stay curious,

J

1

There are going to be quite a few references to this project, reading Don Quixote, over the next few issues. Partly because it’s such an interesting book and I keep finding things I want to talk about, and partly because it’s, well, what I’m doing with my free time at the minute and that usually finds its way here sooner or later. But, anyway, I’m going to drop an affiliate link (here) for the version I’m reading in case you want to try it yourself. It’s worth it. I promise.

2

I had a vague memory of a movie scene wherein a bunch of gamblers, rogues, and cowboys crammed into a makeshift theater and watch a bunch of ladies do peacock dances, but I wasn’t able to find anything specific. Lots of references and allusions, but no actual scene. I suppose I’m conflating a bunch of different scenes from t.v. shows like Deadwood and movies like Unforgiven. Or maybe this is just another example of the Mandela effect? Or maybe I’m just misremembering Moulin Rouge?

3

There’s not any room to really get into it, but I’ll admit to a bit of surprise that this use of burlesque - as a stage show, or part of one - arose in the United States. I had always assumed that it, along with vaudeville, had originated in England as a descendent of music hall acts that came out of the British theater traditions. Turns out vaudeville comes originally from France and burlesque most likely arose as part of American vaudeville shows as a closing act. Here’s the Wikipedia page.

4

Merriam-Webster’s other definition of burlesque: “theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and sometimes striptease acts”

5

They also list, as related words, travesty and amphigory and now I have to go research those two words, too.

6

Burlesque stage acts have made a resurgence in recent years. Here in Japan, the Tokyo Burlesque troupe and performance is a cheeky, fun, sexy night out and if you find yourself in this part of the world, consider adding it to your itinerary.

Novel Shorts

Learned Vol. 4, Issue 15

This week: How did short stories evolve into novels? And just who defines what counts as a short story anyway? We figure it out. Plus footnotes and just a little trivia to speed us on our way. Let’s get to it.

Confession time:  this post actually prompted this entire volume of the newsletter.  Back in September of last year, I started making a pair of lists.  The first list contained nothing but word counts.  Over 55,000 words?  That's a novel.  Under ten thousand but more than a thousand?  Short story.  Between ten and fifty-five thousand?  Well…depends on who you ask.  But knowing which publishers use which word count is important for anyone writing fiction.  It helps you pitch, it helps you submit, it even helps you write1.

As I built my list, I kept coming across words that weren't relevant to my practical list, but that were no less intriguing for that.  Some represented semi-vanished genres like picaresque or epistolary novels.  Others, like roman a clef and bildungsroman give common genres a glow-up.  And others still are words for new types of genres and forms, like flash fiction or <shudder> twitterature.  So I started building a second list.  If the first set down the limits and conventions of the forms modern fiction takes, then the second is a list of labels used to describe them.

In trying to build and maintain these lists, I got the idea to make this volume of Learned all about the words we use when we talk about words2.  And so, with our definition and understanding of fiction from last week, let's dive into the different forms of fiction.

Here's the easiest breakdown, from Wikipedia:

Novel 40,000 words or over

Novella 17,500 to 39,999 words

Novelette 7,500 to 17,499 words

Short story 20 to 7,500 words

It's important to note that even Wikipedia's sources disagree on just how long each of these works ought to be.  And, when you add in different reading levels and ages, the definitions all change again.  Which is to say that a young adult novel may be considerably shorter than a literary novel and yet both are considered novels.  In fact, a word length that might be acceptable for a young adult novel (say 30,000 words) might be considered only a novella in a more grown-up oriented work3.

But let's back up a step.  Where did these conventions originate?  What was the first novel and who decided it was a novel in the first place?

Well...depends on who you ask.  Take a look at another Wikipedia list, this time for "Claimed first novels in English."  The earliest book on the list is Le Morte d'Arthur (1470 c.e.), followed by Beware the Cat (1533), and concluded by Samuel Richardson's Pamela in 17404.

But if you expand beyond the English language, the earliest novels come from much earlier centuries with the world's first novel, the Tale of Genji, coming from Japan in the year 10105.

Somewhat ironically, the word novel actually comes from a description of short stories, novella, having been shortened and refined over the centuries.  And short stories, well...

Short stories have always been with us.  Fairytales, myths, legends, folktales, and a whole host of other oral traditions gave rise to the short story as we know it today.  All these stories were recounted again and again until the advent of book making, when they began to be recorded for the ages.  Over time, the rhythms and cadences of these stories, as collected in books, became calcified into conventions.  In other words, when Chaucer first began recording the jokes and tall tales that would eventually become The Canterbury Tales, he tried to capture the way they were told.  Subsequent writers attempted to copy the patterns of the stories in their own works.  Over time, as language changed, writers began altering the patterns of their stories, sometimes to reflect things more accurately, other times to encourage the reading public to return to a more "elite" manner of speech.

As fascinating as these histories are (and they are, there's a lot more to read about than there is time and space to relay it here), for better or worse, it is the publishing industry that controls these definitions today.  And they do so via word count.  Over the next few weeks, we'll get into all the different publisher terms for works of fiction as well as the vast world of genre definitions.  It'll be a good read, I promise.

Trivially Yours

I mentioned above that the Tale of Genji can be considered one of, if not the, world’s first novels. So what’s it about? In the words of the esteemed Wikipedia:

The work recounts the life of Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji", the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, known to readers as Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking concubine called Kiritsubo Consort. For political reasons, the emperor removes Genji from the line of succession, demoting him to a commoner by giving him the surname Minamoto, and he pursues a career as an imperial officer. The tale concentrates on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time.

I’ll confess that I’ve tried to read it in translation a few times and never made it more than a third of the way through it. It is a slog. What’s a lot more fun to read is Usagi Yojimbo, a long-running comic by Stan Sakai centered around the character of Miyamoto Usagi and set in ancient Japan. Bits and pieces spanning the breadth of Japanese classical literature, mythology, and folk legends make their way into the story. It is a lot of fun.

Stay curious,

J

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1

Having a daily target is one of the most effective tools in the writer's toolbox.  Knowing what you're writing and what the final word count is lets you break the work into smaller, more manageable chunks that work for your schedule.

2

This isn't meta, I swear.  I know meta.  I don't like meta.  This is just self-referential.  Tautalogical even.  But never meta.

3

Part of the fun is knowing that literary and genre conventions get upended all the damn time.

4

You'd think that even having options from three hundred years prior would be enough to null that claim, but...

5

Because the world is the way it is, there is a lot of argument around this claim that basically boils down to "well, it's not a Western novel and the word novel describes a Western literary tradition and so, therefore, and because, ipso facto, Genji can't be a novel."  Sure.  Whatever you say, pal.  That said, there is a lot of consensus around calling Don Quixote the first modern, western novel.

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Fictional Lies

Learned Vol. 4, Issue 14

This week:  Enough grammar.  Let's get into what this series of essays is really all about - what words do we use when we talk about words?  We're going to start big by discussing a word that encompasses every myth, legend, folktale, and story ever told: fiction.  (And then housekeeping, trivia, and footnotes! ) Let’s get into it.

Fiction.  It’s a tricky word.  On the one hand, it’s the word that tells us a story is made-up.  The word we use to say someone is not being completely forthright.  The one we use to suggest that this is all in someone’s head, it’s not real.  It’s a lie.  On the other hand, it’s the word that means that this is a story, just something to entertain us!  It’s only a story.  Just a story.  Nothing but a story.

Here’s a particularly thorough definition from Merriam-Webster to show you what I mean.

1a: something invented by the imagination or feigned

specifically : an invented story

1b: fictitious literature (such as novels or short stories)

1c: a work of fiction

2a: an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth

2b: a useful illusion or pretense

3: the action of feigning or of creating with the imagination

As complete as that is, I suggest that there is something yet missing from that definition, which is whether both parties understand that the communication passing between them is made-up.  Consider the case of the movie The Blair Witch Project1.  Everything about the marketing of the movie suggested that it was, in fact, a documentary.  To the extent that many people were confused when, after the movie’s success, the actors began to appear in interviews.  Once that happened, there was a backlash against the filmmakers as the audience felt they had been tricked.  In this case, the definition of fiction moved from our usual use of fiction as a marketing category to one of deceit.

To that end, we can trace the start of fiction (in English) as a literary classification to the mid-twelfth century.  Prior to this, books and everything in them, was true.  Whether they were writing about the lives of the saints or relating the “history” of Beowulf, things written in books were considered to be factual accounts.  People understood that there might be embellishment or exaggeration to make a point, but, by and large, if it was written in a book, it was a fact2.

Fiction existed, of course.  It is, arguably, one of the defining features of humanity and telling stories has been a part of human history as long as there has been human history.  But, until the middle ages, spending the immense amount of time and effort to record something in a book was reserved only for factual records3.  Telling stories was reserved for after the day’s work was done, while sitting around the hearth.

And all was well and good until the 1150s when writers looked at what was happening in other countries and languages and began importing and changing those ideas into their own.  Soon, works of fiction in which both the author and audience knew that the tale was made-up began to appear on the scene4.  Over the centuries, fiction began to take on a greater role in literature and other forms of entertainment, finally culminating in the coining of the word fiction in the early 15th century.

Etymology online traces the evolution of fiction from 13th century French to its use in English as “works of the imagination” in the 1590s.  However, its use as a category for books and other media did not arise until the 19th century. 

Fiction is, of course, so broad a term as to be next to useless as a categorization.  So, instead, we have divided and subdivided it over the years into genres, media, and marketing labels.  In truth, this process is ongoing5.  Bookstores and libraries give us science-fiction, literary fiction, narrative fiction, travel fiction and so on, while the internet brings about new technologies like interactive fiction.  But, in the end, each new hyphenate and sub-category are just another way of telling us, the audience, that this is a made-up story.  Do with it what you will.

Housekeeping

Substack, the platform I use to publish this newsletter, has recently rolled out a footnotes feature. I’m trying it out in this issue. Good? Bad? Prefer the old way? Let me know what you think by commenting or sending me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Sources

I read two articles for most of my information about the rise of fiction in English. They are The Invention of Fiction by Laura Ashe and The Origin of Fiction by Niels Ebdrup.

Trivially Yours

As we all know, the counter-part of fiction is non-fiction, or, all the stuff that isn’t made up.  You might assume that it arose in the English lexicon alongside fiction.  Turns out, it was first used in 1866 by the Boston Public Library.  And now you know.

Stay curious,

J

1

I hate this movie.  Never need to see it again.  Ever.

2

This attitude persists to this day.  Which is why the phrase “don’t believe everything you read on the internet” was invented.

3

And religious texts, but those were regarded as true by the people who read them at the time they were written.

4

Accounts vary as to which works those were; many scholars seem to agree that tales about King Arthur appeared around this time and that they were understood to be fiction.

5

As an example, YA fiction was not actually a category in the library when I was a YA.  Instead, there was a shelf in the kids’ fiction room for “advanced readers."

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