“Constructed Worlds”
by Elif Batuman
from the January 23, 2017 issue of The New Yorker

I love Elif Batuman’s critical work. There are passages her 2010 book of criticism The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them that I wish were plastered all over the walls at The New Yorker. I’ve never read any of her fiction, though; indeed, I didn’t know she was writing any fiction.

The first thing I did when I saw she had a piece this week was look at her first paragraph to see if she fell into any of the pitfalls of the contemporary short story that she so nicely mapped out in The Possessed. I’m so excited that she did not!

I didn’t know what e-mail was until I got to college. I had heard of e-mail, and I knew that in some sense I would “have” it. “You’ll be so fancy,” said my mother’s sister, who had married a computer scientist, “sending you e-mails.”

I love it, this strange rise from innocence to experience, this technological awakening!

I’m excited to see what you all think of the story, so join in the discussion below!

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By |2017-05-25T16:48:48-04:00January 16th, 2017|Categories: Elif Batuman, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |8 Comments


  1. David January 17, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Well …. It’s a novel excerpt that, from how it is described in the interview, might be a bunch of parts of the book cobbled together rather than one continuous piece. It is, ultimately, just a series of brief scenes of the narrator’s experience of the first term at University. It reads like an extended proposal for a new TV series for HBO … or maybe Netflix.

  2. Amateur Reader (Tom) January 17, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    If you’ve read The Possessed, you’ve read some of her fiction.

  3. Dennis Lang January 18, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Another amateur reader. Loved the story. Animated. Funny. Ironically perceptive.

  4. Peggy January 23, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    And here is another reader that would follow EB wherever she wants to take me. I like her subject mater and what she does with it.

  5. Eric January 24, 2017 at 10:17 am

    This was a pleasant, amusing, moderately insightful bunch ‘a stuff, with no plot to speak of but some fun characters and a very agreeable prose style. Not something I would ever spend an hour reading but, if my local library gets it, I’ll probably keep it by the side of my bed for a month or two. Then when I want to sleep I could open it at some random page and skim through it for a few minutes before drifting off into a dream world of misunderstood Einstein posters and quirky Russian grocery stores.

  6. Greg January 28, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Thank you Eric for the good laugh!…..that being said, I am actually looking forward to Elif’s novel since I loved her recent nonfiction pieces.

  7. Ken February 18, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    This felt more like memoir than fiction and despite being pleasant and amusing doesn’t really work as much of a short story–possibly as it’s an excerpt!! I have been a big fan of her reviews, and maybe the full novel goes somewhere further, but this seems thinly veiled memoir and might have been better billed/conceived as such.

  8. Harri T April 17, 2018 at 7:27 am

    The New Yorker deserves congratulations for good Pulitzer nose, introducing not only the winner but also the inner circle runner-up,

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