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New Grub Street by George Gissing

Hosted by Yiyun Li
Began on November 6, 2023 (37 Days)

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“I tell you, writing is a business… We talk of literature as a trade, not of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare… I speak only of good, coarse, marketable stuff for the world’s vulgar," says a character in New Grub Street, a novel about the publishing world in London in the 1880s. The character might as well have been talking about the state of publishing in the twenty-first century. George Gissing's own life story was as novelistic as any Dickens novel, and he had very little wish to sugarcoat the reality for his readers. Not only is there no sugarcoating in New Grub Street, but there is not even a thin layer of dusting sugar in this novel. For the next thirty-seven days, I invite APS Together readers to read this clear-eyed and unsentimental novel about the business of making literature, the (possible or impossible) livelihood of writers, and many other topics that are highly relevant today.

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Join us on December 13 for a virtual discussion of New Grub Street with Yiyun Li.

Yiyun Li

is the author of several novels, including Wednesday's Child and The Book of Goose (both FSG); Where Reasons End, which received the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award; the memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (both Random House); and Tolstoy Together (A Public Space Books). She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Windham-Campbell Prize, and the PEN/Malamud Award, among other honors. A contributing editor to A Public Space, she teaches at Princeton University. Her essay “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life” appeared in A Public Space No. 19.

George Gissing

(1857-1903) was an English novelist who published twenty-three novels between 1880 and 1903. Noted for the unflinching realism of his novels about the lower middle class, his best-known works include The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893).

Daily Reading

Day 1

New Grub Street. Chapter 1

November 6, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Rather refreshing to open a novel with such an unpalatable character, and unapologetically so.

Day 2

New Grub Street. Chapter 2

November 7, 2023 by Yiyun Li

A prickly chapter. Gissing never seems to leave any space for any wishful thinking, not for the characters, not for the readers, either.

Day 3

New Grub Street. Chapter 3

November 8, 2023 by Yiyun Li

This chapter makes a good snapshot of the contemporary publishing world.

Day 4

New Grub Street. Chapter 4

November 9, 2023 by Yiyun Li

I can’t decide if it feels more horrible or more comforting that the market has always been that shark threatening to devour the souls of many writers before our time.

Day 5

New Grub Street. Chapter 5

November 10, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Oh that cursed word plot!

Day 6

New Grub Street. Chapter 6

November 11, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Imagine anyone these days saying: I’m going to set myself afloat in literature!

Day 7

New Grub Street. Chapter 7

November 12, 2023 by Yiyun Li

This may be one of my favorite chapters so far.

Day 8

New Grub Street. Chapter 8

November 13, 2023 by Yiyun Li

One refreshing view of this novel is that we get to see many struggling writers.

Day 9

New Grub Street. Chapter 9

November 14, 2023 by Yiyun Li

The description of a particular kind of writer’s block (if there is such a thing—I don’t know) in this chapter.

Day 10

New Grub Street. Chapter 10

November 15, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“She would rather have had him flare into a worthless popularity than flicker down into total extinction.”

Day 11

New Grub Street. Chapter 11

November 16, 2023 by Yiyun Li

A short chapter of misery, which reminds me of a line from an ancient Chinese poem.

Day 12

New Grub Street. Chapter 12

November 17, 2023 by Yiyun Li

I hate to admit it, but after the chapters of the private misery of Reardon’s impossible literary pursuit, it’s refreshing to have Milvain back in the book.

Day 13

New Grub Street. Chapter 13

November 18, 2023 by Yiyun Li

In every generation there must be an abundance of Alfred Yules.

Day 14

New Grub Street. Chapter 14

November 19, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“I meant, what was the literary value of it?” said his sister, with a smile.

Day 15

New Grub Street. Chapter 15

November 20, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“It seemed to him that the greatest happiness attainable would be to creep into some dark, warm corner, out of the sight and memory of men…”

Day 16

New Grub Street. Chapter 16

November 21, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Gissing doesn’t really pressure his language, but when he does it, it really works well.

Day 17

New Grub Street. Chapter 17

November 22, 2023 by Yiyun Li

This is Gissing at his sharpest.

Day 18

New Grub Street. Chapter 18

November 23, 2023 by Yiyun Li

This is Gissing at his most succinct.

Day 19

New Grub Street. Chapter 19

November 24, 2023 by Yiyun Li

With Dickens's protagonists, falling into hard times or misery often gives hope of rising again.

Day 20

New Grub Street. Chapter 20

November 25, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Upon my words: easily I can come up with five men in each category in today’s publishing. 

Day 21

New Grub Street. Chapter 21

November 26, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“What certainty could be arrived at in matters of literary gossip?”

Day 22

New Grub Street. Chapter 22

November 27, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Once in a while Gissing can have a sentence so satisfying.

Day 23

New Grub Street. Chapter 23

November 28, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Concrete evidence we haven’t advanced far from the 1880s.

Day 24

New Grub Street. Chapter 24

November 29, 2023 by Yiyun Li

The last chapter of the second of the triple-decker: a chapter of unusual courting.

Day 25

New Grub Street. Chapter 25

November 30, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“Sometimes he opened his Shakespeare, for instance, and dreamed over a page or two.”

Day 26

New Grub Street. Chapter 26

December 1, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Amy is becoming more and more interesting.

Day 27

New Grub Street. Chapter 27

December 2, 2023 by Yiyun Li

To be a poor writer of mediocre quality is rather a tragedy.

Day 28

New Grub Street. Chapter 28

December 3, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Chapters about Milvain bring some energy compared to the Reardon chapters.

Day 29

New Grub Street. Chapter 29

December 4, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“Their eyes met and the look of each seemed to fascinate the other.”

Day 30

New Grub Street. Chapter 30

December 5, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Well, what an apologetically Milvainy question.

Day 31

New Grub Street. Chapter 31

December 6, 2023 by Yiyun Li

In the opening two paragraphs of this chapter, Gissing did something extraordinary (for Gissing).

Day 32

New Grub Street. Chapter 32

December 7, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Willie died from diphtheria.

Day 33

New Grub Street. Chapter 33

December 8, 2023 by Yiyun Li

“The simple, sober truth has no chance whatever of being listened to, and it’s only by volume of shouting that the ear of the public is held.”

Day 34

New Grub Street. Chapter 34

December 9, 2023 by Yiyun Li

This moment doesn’t make Milvain a better person, but it does make him a humane character.

Day 35

New Grub Street. Chapter 35

December 10, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Sometimes I wonder if the reason that literature still lives on is not because of people’s strong convictions, but despite of…

Day 36

New Grub Street. Chapter 36

December 11, 2023 by Yiyun Li

An insightful line into Milvain’s psyche.

Day 37

New Grub Street. Chapter 37

December 12, 2023 by Yiyun Li

Amy and Jasper are rewarded in the end.

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