ENGLISH 364 - The Contemporary Novel
Section: 001 Reading as a Writer: The (Very) Contemporary Novel
Term: WN 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

What is the place - the status, relevance and role — of the contemporary novel in our culture? We'll consider the sometimes testy debate among authors, critics (and even Oprah) on those very points and look at the promotion, reception and substance of some of the most prominent books of the last five years (including one or two newly published during the semester) by fiction writers like Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, Justin Torres (who will hopefully visit the class) and (U-M's own) Jesmyn Ward. Why do they succeed (if they do), what does their success mean, and do they deserve it? We'll endeavor to read both closely (considering the structure, language, characters and plots of the books under consideration) and more expansively (considering the publishing process, and the place of the novel relative to other media, such as TV), always trying to bear in mind that novels start and end with individuals — the author and the reader. The myriad choices of the former and the responses of the latter will be our touchstones.

Probable texts:

  • Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
  • Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain
  • We the Animals, Justin Torres
  • The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson
  • Americah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
  • Purity, Jonathan Franzen (published Sept 2015)
  • The Dowsers, Claire Vaye Watkins (published Oct 2015)

Course Requirements:

Be prepared to read around ten novels, averaging 300-400 pages in length, at the rate of one per week. Course requirements will likely include two papers (approx 8-12 pages each), regular short quizzes/responses, etc.

Intended Audience:

Taught by a fiction writer, this class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion and should appeal to Creative Writing Minors/Majors and Sub-Concentrators, as well — of course — to English Majors and anyone interested in trends in contemporary literature.

ENGLISH 364 - The Contemporary Novel
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
TuTh 5:30PM - 7:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

Please note that both the George Saunder's novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" and the Colson Whitehead book "The Underground Railroad" should be available in paperback early in 2018 (and we'll talk about them towards the end of the semester with that in mind). You might hold off on buying the Jesmyn Ward novel until after the start of class too.
ISBN: 9780307477477
A visit from the Goon Squad, Author: Jennifer Egan., Publisher: Anchor Books 1st Anchor 2011
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 9780812973990
Let the great world spin : a novel, Author: Colum McCann., Publisher: Random House Random Hou 2010
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 9781608196265
Salvage the bones : a novel, Author: Jesmyn Ward., Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperback 2012
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0771047215
10:04 : a novel, Author: Lerner, Ben, 1979-
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 9780060885618
Billy Lynn's long halftime walk, Author: Ben Fountain., Publisher: Ecco 1st Ecco p 2012
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 0099592533
Fates and furies, Author: Groff, Lauren,
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 1489388990
The sympathizer, Author: Nguyen, Viet Thanh, 1971-
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 143283746X
Everything I never told you, Author: Ng, Celeste,
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 1408871742
Lincoln in the Bardo, Author: Saunders, George, 1958-
Other Textbook Editions OK.
ISBN: 1510057633
The underground railroad, Author: Whitehead, Colson, 1969-
Other Textbook Editions OK.
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