by Mathias Nilges
Northwestern University Press, 2021
Cloth: 978-0-8101-4343-2 | eISBN: 978-0-8101-4344-9 | Paper: 978-0-8101-4342-5
Library of Congress Classification PS374.C596N55 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 813.5409

In How to Read a Moment, Mathias Nilges shows that time is inseparable from the stories we tell about it, demonstrating that the contemporary American novel offers new ways to make sense of the temporality that governs our present.
“Time is a thing that grows scarcer every day,” observes one of Don DeLillo’s characters. “The future is gone,” The Baffler argues. “Where’s my hoverboard!?” a meme demands. Contemporary capitalism, a system that insists that everything happen at once, creates problems for social thought and narrative alike. After all, how does one tell the time of instantaneity? In this moment of on-demand service and instant trading, it has become difficult to imagine the future. 
The novel emerged as the art form of a rapidly changing modern world, a way of telling time in its progress. Nilges argues that this historical mission is renewed today through works that understand contemporaneity as a form of time shaping that props up our material world and cultural imagination. But the contemporary American novel does not simply associate our present with a crisis of futurity. Through analyses of works by authors such as DeLillo, Jennifer Egan, Charles Yu, and Colson Whitehead, Nilges illustrates that the novel presents ways to make sense of the temporality that controls our purportedly fully contemporary world. In so doing, the novel recovers a sense of possibility and hope, forwarding a dazzling argument for its own importance today.

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