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Wit's End

“No one in novels watches TV,” a character declares early in Jane Austen Book Club author Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End, by way of explaining why she no longer thinks printed literature is a truly living medium. There are several levels of irony included in that casual dismissal: This character happens to be a wildly successful novelist herself, for one. And Wit’s End happens to be a novel in which lots of people watch a lot of TV. Fowler’s characters chat casually about Lost, Prison Break, 24, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Bones, and more. She really does capture what it’s like to be a post-millennial pop-culture junkie without beating the theme into readers’ heads, and that alone makes me respectfully differ with the solid B that Wit’s End received in EW recently. I wolfed it down over the course of two recent plane flights, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Wit’s End has also gotten much attention for the way its plot turns on characters’ use of Wikipedia, LiveJournal, and fanfic sites. The websites themselves come to life practically as vividly as some of Fowler’s secondary characters. As io9’s Annalee Newitz has put it, this makes the novel a kind of “science fiction in the present”: “While there are no aliens here, or artificial intelligences who come to life, Wit’s Endmanages to skirt the edges of science fiction themes beautifully,hinting at the ways our lives have become the stuff of science fictionwithout us noticing.” And these big, explicit nods to the world that Web 2.0 has wrought aren’t so different from those incidental TV references, are they? In both, Fowler is playing with the communities created by a popular medium — the incredible collective experiences shared by people who watch a series or user-edit a website.

I think the reason I like Wit’s End so much is because it fits into one of my favorite kinds of entertainment: pop culture about other kinds of pop culture. The Truman Show was a movie about TV; the fourth-season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm was a TV episode about Broadway (Mel Brooks’ The Producers). Have any of you out there read Wit’s End? And even if not, do you have any other favorite cross-media works of art like this?