ENGLISH 364 - The Contemporary Novel
Winter 2018, Section 001 - Reading as a Writer: The (Very) Contemporary Novel
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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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)
 In Person
TuTh 5:30PM - 7:00PM
1/3/18 - 4/17/18

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