Top 20 Under 40

The New Yorker has released the anticipated list of top 20 fiction writers under 40, kicking off their summer fiction issue. It’s been eleven years now since the last list.

I’ve no trouble with the number 20, but I admit the number 40 does pose a problem.  If these figures represent the ‘defining voices’ of contemporary fiction, the stars to watch, is there still a future for those who by chance happen to be on the other side of that magic number?

Why should age be a demarkation when it comes to creative writing?  And, why 40? Why not 32 or 46?  It sounds arbitrary doesn’t it.  I know, we’re a lists-obsessed people.  Even the New Yorker editors admit that.  It’s funny that they seem to justify their act by citing The Ten Commandments, the twelve disciples, the seven deadly sins, the Fantastic Four.  Wow, do we ever need to elevate literary stardom to epic proportion… we have fierce competitions in 3-D movies, ‘Dancing with the Stars” and interactive video games, just to name a few.

Writers on their previous list include Jonathan Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon and David Foster Wallace.  So, it’s a highly anticipated star roster.   As well, other magazines have published similar recognition.  Granta has its “Top 21 Under 35” twice a few years ago.  Sounds like a well-established marketing strategy.

Fine.  That is certainly understandable in a time when so many alternatives are competing with reading a short story or a novel. But still, the number 40 troubles me.  My sympathy goes to those who are no less promising but alas, have shot further than the 40 mark.  Without being recognized as ‘young’ anymore, will they still have a future?  Further, is there hope for those who might choose to pursue a passion that comes late in life?  I can see the futility if that dream is to be a concert pianist if one hadn’t taken up the instrument by the ripe old age of 12.  But, what about writing?  Is starting at 40, or 50, or even 60 too late?  Is the term ‘late bloomer’ a misguided notion offering false hope?


Oh… the promise and glamour of youth.  And woe to us who are beyond rescue in a society that’s obsessed with popularity and rankings, youthful looks and prodigious fame.

To soothe the wounded spirit, and keep the creative fire burning, Ripple Effects would like to propose the following iconoclastic list in this day ruled by ageism:

  • Top 50 over 53:  To honor the best 50 unpublished writers over 53
  • Top 100 under 67:  To seek out the best 100 blog writers under 67 in lieu of being published in the real world.  Why 100?  I’m sure this is just a minuscule sample of the tens of thousands possible candidates out there in the blogosphere.
  • Top 15 over 74:  To encourage the best 15 yet-to-be literary stars over 74, just to give hope to those still pursuing their life-long dream.
  • Top 3 over 82:  To celebrate the late-bloomers who have finally made it, actually publishing their debut novel after 82.  Why 3?  That’s obvious.

Sour grape?  No, that would be immature.  Let’s just say, virtual tasting of the elusive grape.  Never underestimate the power of hope and the freedom of casting aside the burden of age.


You can still see the ripples at eventide.   — Arti



Photo taken by Arti at The Inside Passage to Alaska,  September, 2009.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Edward Hopper, William Safire: The Visual and the Word

If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.

In general it can be said that a nation’s art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people.

—- Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

Edward Hopper’s words point to the power of the visual.  I always find Hopper’s realist paintings hauntingly retrospective, convey indescribable feelings, a sense of loneliness, a touch of alienation, yet, it’s hard to say exactly what it is.

Some use the phrase ‘urban loneliness’ to pinpoint the sentiment, as most readily expressed in his famous painting Nighthawks.  But others find the term too parochial even, opting for the more universal description of the human condition, ‘existential loneliness’.

In this visually-driven age, where pictures are instantly produced by a click, eliminating the wait for film processing, and where digitally created images can elicit unimaginable possibilities, has the value of words diminished, both in function and significance? In a time when ‘reading skills’ refer not only to the comprehension of the written language but the deciphering of graphics and visual symbols, has the power of words been eroded?

Does the recent passing of William Safire, called ‘the oracle of language’ by the NY Times, represent the passing of an era?  How many are left to champion the traditional form of communication, to point out word origin, to extol proper grammar usage?  While these gatekeepers are frowning on the split infinitive, the rest of the world has already jumped on board the newer vessel to boldly go where no person has gone before. The reign of literal communication has gradually (or quickly, or___ you fill in the blank) been replaced by the more accessible instant imaging, flickring, youtubing…

Let’s hope too that the traditional art form of painting will not be soon replaced by iPhone sketching.  If the New Yorker’s cover artist is using an iPhone app to touch-produce its cover pages, will the demise of oils and paints be far away?

Of course, I come to praise Hopper, not to bury words, or paints. Rather than saying his paintings defy literal descriptions, let’s just take up this bemusing challenge and do a role reversal:  What words conjure up in your mind when you look at these Hopper paintings? Let’s celebrate words, and paints, while we still have them.

Of all the subjects in his works, I particularly like the solitary figure, or the non-figure, like the room devoid of human presence.  Here are some of them:

Automat (1927):  Layered with subtext, what are the stories behind this lone female customer at the automat in such hour?  What is a good description of her predicament?

Automat 1927


New York Movie (1939): Here’s the reason why I love Hopper’s works.  The contrast, the darker side, the quiet undercurrent beneath the glamorous, the sombre reminder of complexity.



Rooms by the Sea (1951):  A touch of Magritte I feel.  An example of what I call the non-figure.  The philosophical quest of knowing: If nobody’s around to see it, does it still exist?

Edward - Hopper - rooms_by_the_sea


Cape Cod Morning (1950):  Unlike his other works, this solitary female figure is positive, eager,  enthused, and achingly expectant.  Is she a symbol of the optimism of a new age, or will she be disillusioned as reality sets in? 1950 or 2009, is there so much difference anyway?

Cape Cod Morning Hopper (1950)


Gas (1940):  I’m sure it’s not all about gas… does it allude to the lone traveling salesman like Willy Loman, or the gas station owner like George Wilson in The Great Gatsby?



Nighthawks (1942):  Perhaps the most famous of Hopper’s paintings.  As some call it, the depiction of ‘existential loneliness’.  Is that Sartre sitting there all alone at 2:00 am, contemplating in a diner with no exit?



Click here to go to a related post ‘Inspired by Vermeer’ with another Edward Hopper painting, Morning Sun.