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The Oldest, The Youngest

The oldest living author I own is Ray Bradbury, born in 1920.

The youngest living author I own is Judith Schalansky, born in 1980.

I was actually quite surprised by Schalansky, who I thought would be older. She is the only author I own born in the 1980s, actually, a feat on my bookshelves not planned or even sought after, but nonetheless present. In the case of Bradbury, I only own two of his books--Something Wicked This Way Comes and the collection I Sing the Body Electric, neither of which I liked, to be honest--and, as with Schalansky, his presence of being the oldest living author I own is not planned or sought after. In fact, in Bradbury's case, it probably isn't true. There are a number of authors who are alive and older who I believe I own in boxes in the garage (Jack Vance, 1916, for example; I'm sure I have one of his books, somewhere). But there is a nice sixty year difference between the Schalansky and Bradbury, and six decades of sensibilities, ideas, technology, and more make for a nice talking point, if you have the time.

It was a curious thing, sorting books by the date of birth of authors. About half way through the process I noticed that a lot of the younger authors, say those born in the sixties and up, had a hint of what I call the fantastical in their body of work--be it magic realism, weird, dark, or even science fiction, though this last one wasn't hugely represented. It appears I only really have time to read old classic science fiction. Remembering the enjoyment I got reading the old Asimov Foundation books last year, I guess that's perhaps true. Some of the work has a nice retro vibe to it that I dig and that draws me back, despite the bad writing, a trend that has continued into a lot of modern science fiction, but without the retro vibe. But regardless, in glancing at my shelves, at the novels and graphic novels that are present from authors and artists born in the 60s and onwards, I started to think about that old genre divide, that debate that gets pulled up by speculative fiction people about how their authors don't get as much admiration as mainstream or literary authors.

I've always had very little time for the debate, for no particular reason other than it just doesn't interest me greatly. It always seemed unnecessary to worry about what people who didn't really care what you did thought about you, but other people see it different, I guess. But, in staring at the shelves, I thought, really, anything with a hint of the fantastical in it has really grown, has become really the standard. There's big authors like Haruki Murakami (1949) and Margaret Atwood (1939), but they're not what I'm talking about--except, that, of course their success and the nature of their body of work supports what I'm seeing, but what I mean is the younger authors, like China Mieville (1972), Michael Chabon (1963), Lydia Millet (1968), and more. Not all of them write fantastical work all the time, but the influence is there, is strong, and does not try to be anything else, suggesting that perhaps, really, with new generations of authors rising, that anything a bit odd and offbeat and fantastical, is going to become more and more mainstream and get more and more recognition.

Or, perhaps this is what everyone thinks anyhow, and everyone has moved off to start writing about the loss of the realist novel and short story.

Either way, I'm back off to working, so you all have fun.