The Cruft of Fiction


The Cruft of Fiction

Mega-Novels and the Science of Paying Attention

David Letzler 

Frontiers of Narrative Series

318 pages
1 illustration, 1 index


June 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

A 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

What is the strange appeal of big books? The mega-novel, a genre of erudite tomes with encyclopedic scope, has attracted wildly varied responses, from fanatical devotion to trenchant criticism. Looking at intimidating mega-novel masterpieces from The Making of Americans to 2666, David Letzler explores reader responses to all the seemingly random, irrelevant, pointless, and derailing elements that comprise these mega-novels, elements that he labels “cruft” after the computer science term for junk code. In The Cruft of Fiction, Letzler suggests that these books are useful tools to help us understand the relationship between reading and attention.

While mega-novel text is often intricately meaningful or experimental, sometimes it is just excessive and pointless. On the other hand, mega-novels also contain text that, though appearing to be cruft, turns out to be quite important. Letzler posits that this cruft requires readers to develop a sophisticated method of attentional modulation, allowing one to subtly distinguish between text requiring focused attention and text that must be skimmed or even skipped to avoid processing failures. The Cruft of Fiction shows how the attentional maturation prompted by reading mega-novels can help manage the information overload that increasingly characterizes contemporary life.

Author Bio

David Letzler is an independent scholar. His essays have been published in Contemporary Literature, Studies in the Novel, the Wallace Stevens Journal, and the African American Review.


"David Letzler's wonderfully titled book, The Cruft of Fiction, turns its attention to those passages of novels that are apparently pointless or redundant, and which we expect that readers would normally skim. These passages are what Letzler terms the 'cruft' of fiction."—Alice Bennett, Modern Language Review

The Cruft of Fiction is a major contribution to the study of post–World War II fiction, as well as a striking new account of how novels—in particular so-called ‘big novels’—work. It is a truly pathbreaking account of contemporary fiction that will appeal to formalist, historicist, and other varieties of critic alike.”—Andrew Hoberek, professor of twentieth-century American literature and literary and cultural theory at the University of Missouri and the author of Considering “Watchmen”: Poetics, Property, Politics

Table of Contents

Introduction: Information and Attention in the Mega-Novel
1. The Dictionary
2. The Encyclopedia
3. Life-Writing
4. The Menippean Satire
5. Episodic Narrative
6. The Epic and the Allegory
Conclusion: The Fate of the Mega-Novel
Source Acknowledgments


2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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