It is torture to read a novel not just because nobody in it goes to the bathroom, spends every night watching TV, or surfs obsessively on their phones, nor just because the novel was permanently discredited by David Shields’ Reality Hunger as a Victorian form that has not evolved. (I’ve never been the same.)

I decided to fact-check my ass. I looked through Publishers Weekly and (lying) Times best-fiction-of-2021 lists, located novels set in the present day, and downloaded their ePubs via Library Genesis. I set about searching through these full texts for telltale tokens:

  • email E-mail · E‑mail · electronic mail

  • TV · television · show/program

  • bathroom · toilet (⁓ paper)

  • Facebook · Twitter

  • Gmail · AOL

  • laptop

  • printer

  • Skype · FaceTime · WhatsApp · iMessage

  • social media · social-media

  • Spotify · iTunes · Pandora

  • stream · Netflix · Hulu · Amazon

  • texted (only that token)

  • voicemail

  • website · Web site

After plowing through three E‑books, it became clear that the discriminating tokens were exactly and only email (that rendering; confoundable with voicemail), TV (case-sensitive), and bathroom. So for the remainder of the subject cohort, only those tokens were searched for. (I’ll still report variant renderings from those first three novels inspected.)

Novel email TV bathroom
Apples Never Fall 9 17 + 37 15 + 3
Assembly 3 1 1
Beautiful World, Where Are You? 48 4 18
Bewilderment 10 2 4
Chronicles from the Land
of the Happiest People on Earth
12 2 3
Cloud Cuckoo Land NIL ␀ 2 32
Second Place NIL ␀ NIL ␀ 1
A Shock 3 4 + 7 + 4 39 + 14
The War for Gloria 7 33 31
Wayward 10 4 5
The Wrong End of the Telescope 10 NIL ␀ 29

Accordingly, and contrary to my postulate, only Cloud Cuckoo Land and Second Place conjure worlds we are not living in. Second Place cannot even acknowledge that TV exists, though it does go to the bathroom once.


  1. Beautiful World, Where Are You? includes something resembling a self-parody, or a sentence from a TOEFL study guide:

    Opening a private browser window on her laptop, the woman accessed a social media website, and typed the words ‘aidan lavin’ into the search box.

    (Did she type the single quotes? Publishing cartels remain incompetent at typography and copy.)

  2. Assembly: “I almost start scrolling, down to where I know I’ll find my sister’s name, with the link she sent me yesterday to some show or other we’ve both been wanting to see. Instead, I let the screen dim, then flick, to nothing. Absent my phone’s glow, the dark is perfect.”

  3. In Wayward, “TV room” was one usage. Then, for bathroom: “ ‘Who puts a bathroom off a kitchen, you know? And this door—’ ”

  4. Apples Never Fall even acknowledges talk shows: “In fact, Savannah seemed to treat her and Stan as if they were talk[‑]show guests and she the host.”

  5. I did not include tokens found in publishers’ front or back matter, self-evidently.

  6. Hillary Clinton’s coauthored book was unlocatable. I rather expect it mentioned email.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2021.10.25 18:33. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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