‘This is the voice of contemporary South African fiction’—Joanne Ruth Davis reviews Mphuthumi Ntabeni’
For the last three years or so I deliberately read more female fiction writers. I've now decided to go back into a more balanced reading, adding more male fictional writers also. I asked people in my social virtual sphere to recommend contemporary male writers for me. My condition was that it be not macho male, libido obsession stuff of the likes of Philip Roth. I prefer stories of balanced mutual relationship powerplays and character based stories like Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station and all. I also precluded classical literature and rest of the notorious literature most of us like to pretend having read for intellectual catfishing.
The results are listed below. I decided to compliment the public recommendations with my current and to be reads, because the list of the writers was, for one, too melanin challenged for my liking (most of my friends who responded were from outside the African continent). Secondly the respondent were all male who chose to send me their recommendations privately. I found this a little strange and peculiar. It left me with a few questions of my own.
- Are my female friends not reading male fiction writers? Or my question was misconstrued to mean only male friends must answer?
- Why does my male friends feel shy to state publicly the male fiction writers they're reading? Are they apprehensive about their reading preferences/choices, or do they feel a little emasculated? Or am I missing something here?
Lastly, as I said, I decided to level the playing field by revealing what I am currently reading or about to read in the very near future. Where you see (r) it means I've read the book or books; (c) means I've read at least one book from that writer's oeuvre and will continue reading more in the near future; (g) means I've read at least one but will not be reading more from that writer; (n) means not my thing, that is I tried reading and failed or not interested from the sound of things; (w) means I'll read it soon.
Public Recommended Contemporary Male Fiction Writers
- Ocean Vuong (r)
- Ben Lerner (c)
- Max Porter (r)
- Karl Ove Knausgaard (n)
- Scott Spencer (w)
- David Nicholls (r)
- Charles Van Onsleen (c)
- Paul Mendez (w)
- Garth Greenwell (n)
- Luke Brown (w)
Contemporary Male Fiction Writers I am Reading
- Percival Everett
- Masande Ntshanga
- Nuruddin Farah
- Rob Doyle
- Alian Farah
- Derek Owusu
- Jamaica Kincaid
- Frank B. Wilderson III
- Philip Metres
- Jericho Brown
Recommended Contemporary Female Fiction Writers
- Sally Rooney (r)
- Gwendoline Riley (w)
- Britt Bennett (w)
- Maggie O' Farrell (w)
- Taffy Brodesser-Aknar (w)
- Nozizwe Cynthia Jele (r)
- Zadie Smith (c)
- Maaza Mengiste (r)
- Zora Neale Hurston (c)
- Ayóbámi Adébáyò (r)
Female Fiction Writers I am Reading
- Naoise Dolan (Exciting Times)
- Frances Cha (If I Had Your Face)
- Abi Darė (The Girl With The Lounding Mouth)
- Larmona Ash (Dark, Salt, Clear)
- Hilary Mantel (The Mirror and The Light)
- Afia Atokora (The Conjure Woman)
- Sara Collins (The Confessions of Frannie Langton)
- Sujata Massey (Small Island)
- Pauline Delabroy-Allard (Fleischman Is In Trouble)
- Elizabeth Acevedo (With The Fire On)
As far as male writers are concerned my friends and I don't seem to be reading the same staff. I suspect even Ben Lerner we have in common is because I included him as an example of the kind of writing I like, so people seem kind of obliged to include him.
Among the books I am currently reading I think Everett is the best novelist writing in our era, and So Much Blue is nothing short of a masterpiece among art literary books.
My second observation is that their reading patterns seem to be much influenced by social media and big marketing budgets of the publishers, because their choices are also what you see on the internet and literary journals. As much as I read these journals I think my exposure to books is more influenced by podcasts and word of mouth. I hardly take seriously what I hear or see on social media unless it is from people whose reading taste I know and respect.
The same is true with the list of female writers with an added trait of genre. Certain genres seem fashionable, like psychological literary fiction genre whose leading proponent is Sally Rooney. It has also been called the millennial navel gazing. You would see that my contemporary female writer list has Naoise Dolan as my first current read. I regard her as the crowning jewel of the millennial navel gazing genre, and regard her book Exciting Times hundred times more better than Rooney's Normal People.
The narrative english of The Girl With The Louding Mouth is fresh and local, the issues expansive from child marriage to gender and class violence. It is a poignant and insightful coming of age novel.
I usually do my year's book reviews in the month of December when I am able to look back at what I've read during the year. I suspect many books in this list shall also make it into my more comprehensive year reviews. Till then.