South Central Review asks: What is your favorite novel?

The latest issue of South Central Review is a special double issue titled "What is your favorite novel?" Contributor essays include examinations of Max Brooks' World War Z, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's AmericanahWe asked Guest Editor Nicholas Lawrence how the issue came together - and what his answer is to the issue title's tough question. 

What is your specific area of research? What brought you to your area of academic focus? 
 
Most of my research and publication work focuses on nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, anti-imperialist rhetoric, and U.S. frontier literature.  

 
The latest issue of South Central Review, "What is your favorite novel?" is a bit of a departure from the journal's normal format. How did this issue come about? 
 
The idea for this issue originated with Richard J. Golsan, who is editor of South Central Review, and he had been discussing it with me for a while.  But in the wake of the COVID-19 quarantines in 2020, it felt to us like the concept had taken on a fresh relevance.   So often we heard from friends and colleagues who shared with us that they were returning to favorite novels as they adjusted to the different ways in which COVID affected their personal and professional lives.  We also began to see news reports that reading fiction was on the rise globally.  It seemed to us like a perfect time to go for it!

 
How did you come to edit the special issue? 
 
As Managing Editor of South Central Review, I am responsible for guiding each issue from its conception to press.  With this special issue, Golsan asked me to take the lead with content editorship as well, so I took on a somewhat more active role, submitting the original Call for Papers (CFP), writing the Introduction for the issue, and working with each of the contributors during the copyediting and galley stages of their articles.  

 
Was there a call for papers for submissions on the topic? 
 
Yes. We ran a CFP with the University of Pennsylvania database.  We also ran a CFP for members of the South Central Modern Language Association (SCMLA), a regional chapter of the Modern Language Association.  South Central Review is the flagship academic journal for SCMLA.  The responses to our CFPs were quite robust.

 
Was the issue planned to be a double issue or was that decision made as a result of the submissions?
 
We did originally plan for this to be a special double issue.  We felt that we would be able to attract a quantity and caliber of submissions that would justify designating it as a double issue.  We also felt that if we kept the articles relatively brief, we could provide a range of coverage that would represent a strong breadth of taste, and approaches to reading and writing.  Fortunately, this is what happened, as our range of contributors includes graduate students and professors of various ranks from around the world.   

 
Did any of the novels chosen as favorites in the issue surprise you? 
 
I wouldn’t say that any of the choices surprised me.  

 
Were there any titles chosen that you haven't read but have read / plan to read now as a result of essays in the issue? 
 
In a way, this relates to the previous question. While I was not surprised by the choice of novels explored in our issue, there are numerous titles in there which I have not yet read, and I have made it a mission to read them all! For instance, I am excited to read Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police (1994) over the coming winter break. 

 
What do you hope readers of this issue will take with them? 
 
Maybe as much as anything else, I hope readers come away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and wonder for reading fiction.  Much of our readership is made of up of literary scholars, and I think that those of us in that field, because we write about and teach books for a living, can sometimes forget how much we value and enjoy reading fiction as an activity for its own sake. One of the great things about this special double issue is that you can see scholars approaching their favorite novels with academic rigor, but also with that sense of fundamental joy in reading. 
 
And I would venture to guess, given the tremendously diverse range of the novels and authors represented in this double issue, that readers will inevitably be encountering many of these texts for the first time.  In that respect, I hope readers find this double issue a wonderful resource as a recommended reading list!

 
What is your favorite novel?
 
Ack! Like many of our contributors told me when they were putting together these essays, this is such a hard question and it can feel like choosing one is a slight against one’s other many close, much-adored friends!  As a sort of dodge, I will answer by sharing that, had I done an article for this issue, I probably would have written about Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992).  It is certainly a perennial favorite of mine.  It is such a fun, wild ride of a read!  But it also has commentary on issues related to social, political, popular, and digital culture that I think of as probably more relevant today even than when the novel first appeared.

 
What are you currently working on / what's next for you, research-wise? 
 
I continue to serve as Managing Editor for South Central Review, and we are very excited about the materials forthcoming for readers in calendar year 2022!  In addition to my primary focus on teaching and service responsibilities at the University of South Carolina Lancaster, I do have the beginnings of a research project underway, related to a ghost story that traces back to nineteenth-century South Carolina and U.S. literary history.  I hope to make some progress working on that in the year to come!
 
Nicholas Lawrence is an Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina Lancaster.  He earned his PhD at Texas A&M University.  His research interests include nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, anti-imperialist rhetoric, and U.S. frontier literature. Among his publications are a chapter in Critical Insights: Cormac McCarthy (Salem Press, 2013), as well as articles in Western American Literature, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, South Atlantic Review, and South Central Review, for which latter journal he currently serves as Managing Editor.
 
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