Modern novels

This is not a post of a pretentious critique telling you why we miss the “good old days”. Its not even about the flaws of modern literature (many qualified folks with PHD out there doing that already). This is merely to express the disconnection I feel when reading a best-seller plucked off the nearest bookshelf.

In an age of competing media platforms, it is increasingly difficult to hold the attention of your audience. I, like many aspiring writers, constantly grapple with the monster that is distraction. What is it that books have that can stop people from jumping on Facebook, turning on their TV or just wondering about aimlessly on Youtube? Well, whatever it was, I didn’t find it in my most recent read.

Just moments ago I finished Sorcery Rising by Jude Fisher. Surely enough, it was an entertaining read. The author had excellent diction and a compelling story. Still, I couldn’t shake off the sense that this could have easily been translated into comics, TV series or other visual media. While this is not a bad thing, it makes me wonder why we bother to read at all. There has to be a reason why people are still willing to purchase books, be it a paperback, hardback or electronic.

I spent most of my college years reading classics. I’ve gone through a few Dickens, Hugo, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Not all of them were page turners. They were not pretty books either (Russian authors were well known for conserving adjectives). Joseph Conrad, in particular, was all but impossible for me. Yet, something about them kept drawing me back.

After returning to the reading of modern day fiction, I finally realised what made those classics special. It was a thought, a powerful philosophy, a view on humanity, expressed in the form of fiction. Tolstoy recorded the lifestyle of Russian aristocrats. Dickens drew delightful caricatures of Britain. Hugo assaulted the corruptions he perceived in French society. Dostoevsky held a mirror to humanity until the reader felt naked.

After reading such great books, I cannot help but feel somewhat hollow when reading modern fiction. It’s almost like I traded a family dinner for a fast food combo.

Well, that’s my two cents. Feel free to comment, disagree and discuss. Until then.

  1. This is an intriguing moment of introspection, really. I can’t say I have a problem with the entertainment emphasis in modern novels, but you’re right: the books that affect me most, that I remember and return to the most, have a deep sense of commentary/exploration of *something*. The author who comments on this most profoundly is terribly controversial, but her texts on art and writing are worth picking up and that’s Ayn Rand – The Art of Fiction (and The Art of Nonfiction), as well as the Romantic Manifesto. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on her relevant philosophies.

  2. I am by no means a philosopher but by the looks of it, I may have to pay the library a visit very soon (I’ve never read non-fiction that comments on art). I can only quote Wilde, who believes that “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.”

    In short, I do not believe that there are invalid forms of art. Every decision we make is driven by our perception of value. Attacking the validity of such choices is in my opinion, unwise.

    With that said, I love authors who have a powerful message. Dostoevsky’s “Demons” was one such book. Those who are out there for the mere sake of controversy I despise (South Park, I’m looking right at you!).

    • Yeah. I can’t say I wholly agree with her, particularly on the question of in/valid art, but I appreciate being pushed to think critically about the art/literature I both consume and create. What would you say that the novel you’re working on is exploring beyond the entertainment factor?

      • Unfortunately, nothing. =D I wouldn’t even dream of it.

        I might give it a go when I’m older but I feel that many people have already done it better than I ever will.

  3. @Vagrance – No worries! I bet it’ll have more depth than you think! Regardless, though, entertainment value is always good too. 😉

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