What does it mean to write a realistic novel? Or a realistic screenplay? Does psychological realism depend on the use of one or another sets of literary tricks? Does it feel real — is that the ultimate test?

Some weeks ago now, a famous writer said that Shakespeare sucks because his work is unrealistic and unrelatable. (No, I won’t link. Take your bard disparagement elsewhere, sucker.) Shakespeare isn’t realistic, it’s true. He was writing pre-realism, during the Renaissance, a period that saw a dramatic shift from Medieval to modern modes of theatre. In Shakespeare’s day, there was a cultural fixation on translation and adaptation (these were considered higher arts than spinning original tales), and while some call Hamlet the first modern character, the audience of the day would have seen it quite differently: a common tale, some this character type and that one, a handful of recognizable forumale, and fantastic poetry. Do we still enjoy Hamlet? Obviuosly. Do we bring to it the same expectations and interpretations that its original audience would have? Not a chance. (For one thing, we’re probably less familiar with Greek theater.) And yet reading Hamlet and watching it be performed, we do find something “realistic” in it. But that’s us, more than it is Shakespeare.

What got me thinking about realism in fiction was this peice: Writing Machines: On realism and the real.

Time and again we hear about a new desire for the real, about a realism which is realistic set against an avant-garde which isn’t, and so on. It’s disheartening that such simplistic oppositions are still being put forward half a century after Foucault examined the constructedness of all social contexts and knowledge categories; or, indeed, a century and a half after Nietzsche unmasked truth itself as no more than “a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms … a sum of human relations … poetically and rhetorically intensified … illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions.”

Realism is technique, mode, expectation, and now, a value judgement in of itself — is it worth reading? Well, is it real? Is it authentic? This position is bullshit, because as Tom McCarthy goes on to say, “Realism is a literary convention – no more, no less – and is therefore as laden with artifice as any other literary convention.” Is it worth reading? Well, is it well constructed? Does it affect you?

Meanwhile, some genius turned the CIA torture report into a novel… using robots: The Interrogators: A Novel Written by Robots. But … is it real?

Reading, Writing, News, and Links

A new book, The Crazy History of Star Wars, tells behind the scenes stories about the franchise’s inspiration, creation, and development. The New Yorker digs into it. — Megan

The inimitable Janet Mock is running a Trans Book Drive, sending books to trans people in prison! The project has already met its $5000 funding goal on Indiegogo, but keep on donating. When does a person need the succor of books more than when she is imprisoned? — Megan

While this is a little outside of reading, this article does talk about the difference in men and women’s discussion of their body, as it relates specifically to apps. Check out the part where they interview women who started their own meetups to talk about what they want from these type of apps. — Sarah

Luckily for Jane Austen fangurls, it seems most of the Buzzfeed writers are also Jane Austen fangurls. Austen’s cheeky wisdom never gets old. — Ginnis

This is what would have happened if they let Ayn Rand review children’s books. Here are “her” thoughts on Old Yeller, the movie that every asshole teacher insisted on making you repeatedly watch in elementary school EVEN THOUGH YOU COULDN’T HANDLE IT!

Old Yeller: A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. —Four stars.

— Ginnis