During my time at the London Book Fair I had the pleasure to hear Howard Jacobson speak. He’s a British author who has won a Man Booker Prize for his novel The Finkler Question. I should state that I haven’t read any of his novels, but this didn’t stop me from wanting to hear his thoughts about writing. After hearing him discuss his novels, I am interested in reading some. He is an entertaining and highly opinionated man. I’ve always enjoyed listening to people with opinions, as long as they are respectful, which he was. And he’s really funny. He believes that comedy is an important ingredient in novels.
He made one comment in particular that made me ponder. And I would like to throw it out there and hear your opinions. He said that in today’s world, everyone is writing a novel since literature is coming to an end. Jacobson claims that during wartime people become more promiscuous since they think they will die and there is no reason not to have fun. He continues by stating that now that literature is doomed, everyone wants to write a novel and join in the fun before it is too late.
My question for you wonderful folks is do you think literature is coming to an end? And how do you define literature?
Below are some photos I took during the event.
Maybe good literature, but I hope not. It’s an interesting view though. Good post.
Thanks. I really hope he is wrong. I see the rise ebooks and such and how now there are so many ways for a writer to be published. This doesn’t mean, for me at least, that the end of literature is on the horizon. I think the writing world is drastically changing and I’m hoping that it is changing for the better. It is time to adapt I guess.
No, I don’t think literature will ever come to an end. It may cease to exist in paper form at some point in the near future, but people will always want to read the written word. Why are there so many books being written now then? I think it’s like anything else to do with entertainment nowadays. Everyone wants in on it, and there are just so many more ways to get published them there were years ago. Our age of technology has made so much more available to us. It’s like movies – years ago there might have been one movie a month that I was interested in seeing at the theatre. Now there are sometimes two a week. I can’t keep up anymore. And it’s the same with books. I have two shelves of books that are waiting to be read plus over 500 on my ebook reader. I, for one, could not live without literature!!
As a book lover I hope they never cease to be released in paper form. I know, I’m clinging on to history, but I love the feel. That said, I also enjoy ebooks, but please don’t take my paper books away for good. Interesting comparison to movies. It has also become cheaper to make movies. Blair Witch showed many film makers that. (I can’t remember others before this one but I’m sure there are.) There are still books coming out in droves that I want to read. And I still believe that there are serious writers out there. I think that is what he was saying, that the serious writers will stop writing or cease to be in existence. I don’t see this happening. As always, there will be good writers and bad writers, with a whole bunch in the middle.
Nice photos. I also enjoy listening to highly opinionated people (who happen to be very tasteful and diplomatic in the way that they manage to share their views – there’s an art to doing that I believe). Interesting view from a writer saying that literature is doomed, and an award-winning author at that. The irony. 🙂
He was a pleasure to listen to. Even though he said some confrontational things, he had a sense of humor about it and I think was trying to rile the moderator somewhat. It was interesting to hear a writer say that, especially at a place full of writers. That took some nerve.
It depends how you define literature. If he means so-called literary fiction then maybe he isn’t wrong.
So do you think that genre novels will push literary fiction off of the shelves and ereaders. Some claim that literary fiction is a genre as well. Do you agree?
Yes, I would say that’s what’s happening. No, literary fiction is most certainly not a genre. It’s more saying something about the writing as such which should be more sophisticated and also more original, I think. On the other hand you have genre novels which are so well written that you can call them literary crime/SF…
I personally find the term weird anyway it doesn’t exits in my native languages French/German. I used because I tried to find out what exactly he meant. In German Literatur is very clearly not genre. Many ritics like Josipovici say that the end of British/American literature has already come. This is a quality statement I belive and suppose that’s what Jacobson meant.
Or it wouldn’t make sense…
I agree Caroline that some writers in “genre” produce fantastic novels and can be labelled, if we need to label, as literary fantasy or such. I have never had a real grasp of the term literary fiction. I hear it more and more these days, but for me, I just like books with a good story. I haven’t read any articles or such by Josipovici. I’m curious as to why he thinks British/American literature is at a end. How does he explain writers like Jeffrey Eugenides, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison, Martin Amis and such? I’m sure if I tried harder I could come up with a larger list. I would be curious to find out.
I’m curious what you mean that German Literature is not genre…do you have certain writers in mind. Also, off the subject, will you be hosting a German Literature month this year? I have some books set to the side if you do.
Considering that people have been telling stories for thousands of years, and writing them down too, I sincerely doubt that literature, regardless of definition, is doomed. As long as there are people with imaginations, they will want to tell stories. And even if you have a narrow definition of “literature”, there will always be people who want to tell that kind of story. I would wager that 99% of writers of “literature” are not doing so primarily for fame, wealth, or some lofty goal of improving the quality of books. They are doing it because they had an idea and they wanted to get that idea down on paper. They wanted to tell a story. Literature will only be doomed if mankind is wiped out.
I hope you are right Carl. I know for me I read a story because it interests me. I don’t look for certain types and I like to branch out and sample different genres and such. Story is everything. And I think that matters to writers as well. They have a desire to tell a story and the format they use hopefully enhances their storytelling. Love live the power of storytelling!
I’m not particularly worried about it. People have been saying that my favorite type of “literature”, science fiction, has been dead for decades and it is not only alive and kicking but stronger than ever. And I do have to respectfully disagree with everyone who thinks that literature as defined by this gentleman is doomed as I still believe there will continue to be people who want to read that kind of fiction and will thus continue to write it. And a “bestseller” is no litmus test on the success of literature. There are many authors who make a decent living, which means their books are getting read by many, who don’t his the bestseller list.
I haven’t read a lot of science fiction, but thanks to you I now appreciate the genre and I would like to explore more. I hadn’t heard that some think science fiction is dead. I know when I worked in Borders, it sold really well so I was surprised to read your comment. My ignorance is showing.
I think Jacobson was serious about his assertion on one level and I think he was also just trying to irritate some in the audience. He got me to thinking. And one of the things I determined is that I really can’t nail down my own opinion of “literature.” There are so many wonderful writers who are pinned into a genre and yet their writing is fantastic. And why should the genre label diminish their skill and success.
And I agree with you, the bestseller list does not equate with literary success. I think many writers write just to write and they wouldn’t be happy in any other profession.
I love the science fiction community, but at the same time I have some real problems with it. There tends to be sects that do a lot of in-fighting, denigrating of certain types of SF, etc. There is also an annual resurgence of the ‘science fiction is dead’ argument across the internet (now) dating back to pre-internet days. You can almost set your calendar to it. It tends to crop up around the beginning of the year most years as people look back over the year that was. And often authors and other folks get in on the game. It can be frustrating sometimes as the reasons cited are always the same. You could take any years’ argument and transplant it to another year and it would be nearly identical. And I suspect this happens in all genres of fiction, even literary fiction. People tend to get too close to the source and get myopic.
I am going to have to pay closer attention to this in-fighting and discussion about the end of science fiction. If they have to keep rehashing the same old arguments does that mean that it hasn’t died…if it is dead then why keep talking about it. I really don’t like when some authors say bad things about other “types” of writing. Not everything is everyone cups of tea but do we have to talk about why some types are better than others. If people like something they like it. Reading is a personal choice and having people tell you that you are reading “bad” types of literature that discourages reading. I’m all for reading. Read what makes you happy and what you find fun.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to pay attention to it, because frankly it is depressing. The two cents I add to those discussions, when I feel like getting beat up a bit, is that it is that kind of exclusive, elitist, “pissing match” behavior that has a factor in keeping the science fiction community small. I like to challenge the “old guard” to be ambassadors for the genre rather than evangelists of the “it isn’t as good as it used to be” message.
It is actually entertaining in a sadistic sense to see the literary elite struggle with the same frustrations and fears that science fiction critics do: the alleged dearth of worthwhile fiction and how the genre won’t survive.
I would argue that while the ease of self-publishing has introduced a number of people to an audience that they might have not had before, that the “everyone is writing a novel” phenomenon has some truth to it but is not as great as the arguments would show. I have no data for this so that will tell you what my argument is worth, but anecdotal evidence and common sense would suggest that all kinds of people have been out there writing novels and short stories for years without them getting published, we just didn’t know about it because there weren’t blogs where people discussed it for the world to see
And like one commenter said, if there is a death of “literature”, who is to say that is a bad thing. I hope, and suspect, that the kind of novels classified by the elitists as “literature” will never die. It would not be such a bad thing though if the elitist literary attitudes would die out.
I think you are right Carl, many people in the past have tried to write novels and didn’t succeed and that today we hear more about these people because of blogs, the internet, and self-publishing. I’m not saying that all of these authors were unfairly passed over by publishers. However, some of the successes of those authors who self-published may demonstrate that publishers and agents might not always know what the public wants. And lets be honest, how can every novel that is sent to publishers and agents actually be read. The amount of time and staff would be too much and many of these firms are struggling right now. I don’t want to see the end of them since I love books too much. And I appreciate that there are other avenues for writers to pursue. As long as a writer can find readers, who is to say that is a bad thing.
I’m not very fond of the attitude of some who think that one type of writing is better than another or that everything that is created today can’t measure up to the past. I find most of the time that these people are close-minded and are really no fun to be around. I enjoy reading. What I read is up to me. That is a wonderful freedom to have.
I was planning on commenting on this post, but your discussion with Carl at one point or other provided every point I was going to make. So instead I shall simply applaud and walk away. Bravo gentlemen.
Thanks Adam. If you think of anything we missed, please feel free to comment. I love to hear all opinions.
I agree with you. It has nothing to do with fame. It is a driving need to express an idea or thought. If one does it for fame I think they would be sadly disappointed.
I think if a writer writes just for fame they miss the point about writing. For me, it is the story.
He’s right and wrong. I think that best-seller books aren’t literature. Rarely do the mass read good literature, if you look at the top ten it’s definitely not literature. It is out there, but you have to look for it. Right now I am reading Ru, which won an award in Canada and is literature (in my opinion) but a modern version. Literature changes, music changes, art changes, nothing ever stays the same. I mostly agree with him. Nice post.
I like your point that everything changes…what was once considered literature is now different. Currently I am reading David Copperfield and Mistborn so as you can see I love the classics and fantasy. I don’t like to stick to just one thing since I think reading all over the spectrum enhances my reading pleasure and rounds out my thinking. All I care about is good stories.
I looked up Ru and it sounds fantastic. I’ll have to add it to my list. Thanks!
I love Charles Dickens ( I had to read many of his books during my university days). I tend to stick to more literary works and I do see the difference. I just finished reading Now You See Her by Joy Fielding and I enjoyed the mystery element and it was very well written. I agree with you that a good story is what makes a good novel!
This year I am working on a Dickens project. I plan to read ten novels by him. Last night I started my fourth. I recently moved from the US to England and I thought this would be a great time to explore his novels. I’ll look into Now You See Her. I do love mystery. Thanks for the tip. Story matters!
I think that is a depressing thought! I also don’t agree with it. Maybe it is becoming easier to publish a ‘novel’ now that we have e-books and self publishing, but that only means that you have to sift through the rubbish! There are always going to be talented writers out there who have stories to tell. As long as we have good literature to read, I don’t think true writers will lose their inspiration.
Also, we do have to accept that tastes and styles will change – just look at literature through the ages! There does seem to be a lot of rubbish out there too though! I’m sure that has always been the case though, but bad books don’t live through the ages!
Great points! Now that it is somewhat easier to be published via the internet and self-publishing there are more authors, however, there are still writers who are excellent at what they do. I don’t think that great writers will be like, well now anyone can write so I won’t anymore. At least I hope that won’t happen.
And yes writing styles have changed drastically. Not many people write like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen these, but the overall point is that people still find ways to tell a great story. And that is what concerns me. The story. I guess I don’t care how you label it. As long as I am entertained while I am reading something, then I’m a happy reader.
Did promiscuity end? There ya go …
You got right to the point there!
Two of my closest friends are literary agents – no idea how that happened as I am not involved in publishing in any way, but I digress – and they agree with him, completely. Their definition of literature is a well written book in any genre that has been wrestled into shape by the discourse, disagreements, arguments, wars, between an edito/publisher on one side and the creator/writer on the other. They would both say that there is plenty of good (and a lot more totally lousy) writing going on but it isn’t literature…
That is interesting Robert. Yesterday I was doing some research about agents and many of them talked about how they are still excited to read new novels and authors since they love it. Of course they were trying to drum up business so maybe they were fibbing. I do enjoy how you said that a great book is “wrestled into shape…” I would love to see some of these wrestling matches. I haven’t given up hope that there is more than just good literature out there. I understand that your friends are more involved in the publishing world than I am and I may be naive, but books come out all the time that I want to read and that I am excited about. I think being an agent would be a tough biz. I would hate having to tell people that I don’t think their stuff would sell. I know I couldn’t do it.
This year I am working on a Dickens project. I plan to read ten novels by him
that could turn into a huge project… why just Dickens? No Wilkie Collins? No Anthony Trollope? etc .. lol…
Hi Deslily–no worries, I am reading more authors, not just Dickens. I haven’t read Collins yet, but I hear his Woman in White novel is great. And I have several Trollope novels on my shelf. I plan to read as many writers as possible…time willing of course.
This is a hard question to ponder. I think he is right to an extent—everyone seems to be trying to write a novel and, perhaps, the criteria for who can be a writer should be stricter. Like it or not, the publishing industry has to compete with other forms of entertainment. Classic literature gets a revival when it’s brought to the big screen or someone writes an alternative version with werewolves, vampires, zombies, sea monsters, & c.
We all know the definition of “literature”—the books you read to earn you degree in English. This does not mean only classic literature. I have not spent four years only reading Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy; I was introduced to Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and Alice Walker, who have also been added to the canon of “literature.” I’m sorry to say that Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, etc. are not “literature,” but this does not mean that they are not good books. A good book is one you enjoy reading, even if it’s smut. In fact, many “fun” books that have come to be classed as “literary fiction” are very well researched and impressive because of this.
Jacobson might be correct in saying that “literature” is doomed, but I’m not one to say whether this is a bad thing. I read non-“literature” as much as I read “literature. Probably more so. I think that there are many poor publishing decisions on the market simply because there are people who will read them, but when it comes to “literature” it does prove more difficult to find an audience. This doesn’t mean that it won’t or that “literature” will become a thing of the past. Until the next great literary figure reveals himself/herself, we can all find pleasure and contentment in reading non-“literature.” I think this has always been the case: it’s impossible for every book on the market place to be “literature.” A great work of literature is quite rare; if it were common, it wouldn’t be great.
You make some really great points, especially the point that if literature is doomed it might not be a horrible thing to happen. Maybe it will open the door to more stories that may not be deemed “literary” but are still wonderful stories. However I do find it hard to believe that there aren’t writers out there who can write “literature.” The style may be changing so it might be harder to recognize. I do have a question, are you saying that currently we are without a great literary figure that critics and readers can point to and say, “See literature isn’t dead”? And I like that you say that great works are rare…that is true and that is why so many of us love the “great” works. They don’t come along all that often and when they do, it is cherished. And I am very happy to read non-literature as long as I enjoy it.
I think that we do have great literary figures, today—the argument seems to be that there aren’t many. But I don’t think there was ever a time where the world was swarming with great literary figures. Anyone who believes in a golden age of literature is fooling themselves. It only seems like there’s less literature and more non-literature now because the publishing industry has grown. Technology makes it possible for anyone to publish in any format.
Great post, by the way. There are times when I find myself saying that publishing is doomed, but I really don’t think it can be. Everything just evolves. I hate when people say, “writers just don’t write like they used to.” I, admittedly, used to think this way.
There have been times when I worry about publishing and the availability of books since so many bookstores and publishers are hurting right now. But I don’t think that has changed the writers. There have always been great ones, good ones, and so-so ones and I think this pattern will continue. I also get upset when people say “writers just don’t write like they used to.” Writing styles change over the years and some great writers in the past were not appreciated during their own time. Thanks for the comments!
I have to respectfully disagree with your statement. “Literature” is not simply what falls under the category of books English majors read in college, that is an elitist attitude that causes the separation between literary fiction and genre fiction in the first place. It’s a way of putting yourself above other people because you read different books than they read.
You have to remember that Austin, Dickens, and Tolstoy were not written as “literature,” they were the popular fiction of their day, and because they were well written they have stood the test of time. The fiction that is being released today is no different from fiction when Austin was writing, some of it is good, some of it, not so much. The difference is that we’ve had a couple hundred years to sort through the slush piles of history and as a result the only books from that period that we read are the ones that were well written. (You can see the same distinction with music, go look up the top 40 charts from the 1980’s. The songs that have stood up over time are still being played, and many of the songs that were popular back then but weren’t of the highest quality have been weaned out of radio playlists.)
Fast forward 100 years in the future and you’ll see the same kinds of distinction with many books that are being written today. Authors like Tolkien, Gaiman, Heinlein, and Asimov will be taught alongside Austin, Dickens, and Tolstoy. And 100 years in the future people will be having the same discussions about how the new books coming out aren’t as good as what was coming out today.
Thanks for your comments Adam. For me the definition of literature is difficult since there are some who prefer a strict definition and have ideas of what can and can’t qualify and don’t examine the grey areas. Also, over the years, writing has changed. The basic idea, that of telling a story, persists, but how one tells his or her story changes drastically from one generation to the next. And not all of these changes are embraced at the time, but some, over the years, gain more respect and appreciation. Your music comparison proves this point and it quite apt. It is hard to say what works that are being produced today will survive the test of time.
This is a little off the subject, but I haven’t read any Heinlein. Do you have any suggestions of where to start? I’ll be reading my fist Gaiman novel later this month, but I have not pursued Heinlein even though I hear many great things.
The books by Heinlein that I’ve read are Job: A Comedy of Justice and The Number of the Beast. Both were interesting but had kind of funky endings. Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all won the Hugo Award for Science Fiction, so any of those would probably be a good place to start as well.
I should probably read more of his stuff as well, maybe I’ll pick up another of his books the next time I head out to B&N.
Thanks Adam…I’ll look out for the Hugo Award winners. They will fit in perfecting with one of my challenges which involves reading award winning authors. Have fun at B&N…I used to love those stores.
it is always interessting meeting a writer and hear him talking about his way of work.
I passing on this award to you.
It was a real treat to hear an author discuss his work and to hear his opinions. And thanks so much for the award. And congrats to you on yours. You are so kind and I wish you a great day.
I don’t agree. I think more people are writing because it is so much easier to get published, even if only self-published, than it used to be. People like to express themselves.
And I am all for people having avenues for expressing themselves and for telling their stories. It would be hard to stamp out the desire to tell a story. And it would be a horrible world, in my opinion, if people couldn’t do so.
I agree. Some of the books out there are terrific and might not exist, if it were more difficult to get published. Everybody deserves a chance.
TBM, Josipovici thinks that, Ian McEwan among others isn’t a good writer. I gues that answers your question. 🙂
I thought that was rich and bought a Josipovici novel that was recommended to me. I read it, looking foreard to it and found it total crap. Badly written! I wrote a review on part of his non-fiction book that people found hilarious (my post). . I always planned on reviewing it but never got around to doing so.
That’s right, I think you told me that before when I reviewed McEwan’s novel Saturday. That is the only novel that I’ve read by McEwan and it didn’t blow me away. However, he has many other books so I won’t pass my judgment just yet 🙂 It is funny that you didn’t enjoy the Josipovici novel. I’ll have to look into it and see for myself.
Oops didn’t see the last part of your comment.
What I meant is the German word “Literatur” doesn’t refer to genre but to so-called literary fiction.
I would like to do it again but Lizzy is busy, I have no idea when her exams are over.
Well I hope it works out for the German Literature month. Last year I felt bad since I only read one novel since I was moving and such. Hopefully this year will be less stressful. And I’ve been reading so many English novels it will be nice to branch out some.
Pfff. Literature is not dead; reading is not dead; books are not dead; the print format is not dead. None of these things are coming to an end. I hear it all the time but it’s just alarmism. Things are changing, yes; habits are changing, and more formats are available. The e-book will not kill the print book, although print publishing is struggling to redefine its role. Change, yes; demise, no. I think, as noted by some comments above, that Jacobson’s use of the word “literature” is interesting, and telling. As you’ve presented it here, his statement doesn’t indicate, to me, that he’s taking the (popular) line that *books* are dying. I think his use of “literature” indicates rather that he’s concerned about “good” books, proper, important, potentially classic, etc. books are dying. This reminds me of every aging generation’s criticisms about “kids these days.” This rendition goes, “Kids these days don’t read *good* books any more, they’re not writing or reading *literature*, barrrgh.” Opinions about what makes a book “literature” are just that: opinions. You’re welcome to yours. But I think there will always be books, and someone will call some of those books *good*, or even “literature.” I’m not too worried.
Thanks Julia. Many of the topics at the fair were about publishers and should they be afraid of self-publishing and ebooks. It is surprising that they still haven’t put a plan in place to redefine their roles. But I’m an outsider so what do I know. I remember when I worked at Borders many years ago I was pretty surprised that when ereaders were starting to thrive in the US, Borders spent more time growing their DVD departments. That baffled many of us. Amazon and Barnes and Noble changed tactics quickly and adopted ereaders, but Borders waited until they couldn’t wait anymore and yet they still couldn’t save the stores.
I agree with you that opinion plays a huge role in defining literature. And it plays a role in determining good and bad books. This complicates things, because even book critics can’t agree. For me, when I like a book I don’t rush out to see what the “professionals” say about it. And if I read on someone’s blog that they loved a book and then I read it and find out that I didn’t really like it, I don’t go back to the blogger and complain. Not everyone will feel the same about certain books. What is important is that there are still many of us reading and discussing. As long as this continues, writers will still write.
Great discussion here. 🙂 I think we’re on the same page. There are naysayers – I encounter them in my job – but I also have a full-time job providing people with hardcopy books, literature even, so there!
Keep up the good work Julia! I would love to work in a library.
You’ve hit on the key question, I think, namely: “what is literature?” What did this speaker say it is? Personally, I think anyone who has the talent can write “literature.” And I think that often we don’t recognize it when it’s in our face. Sometimes, great literature, like great art, is best appreciated over time.
Unfortunately the conversations with the authors were only 30 minutes long so Jacobson wasn’t able to go into a long definition of what he considers “literature.” And the moderator was a little taken aback by his statement and was trying to put some distance between it. But my impression was that he was distinguishing between popular genre novels and “literature.”
Yes! Literature is like art and not always appreciated in their own time but years down the road. For instance, Kate Chopin’s Awakening was not liked by the critics or public when she published and now it is considered “literature” or a “classic.”
So many comments – I don’t think literature is dead, but I think it’s becoming more reachable by the masses. That in itself could be an issue if you ask ‘Academia’, but who knows.
As for Jacobson and The Finkler Question I was rather disappointed. I enjoyed the novel, but I thought there were better written books, and even better stories, that year that were on the short list even if Jacobson’s was one of the more humorous.
Interesting theory Geoff. It reminds me of trends in history when the elite didn’t want the masses to read since reading gives one knowledge and knowledge can lead to power.
I haven’t read Jacobson yet, I plan on doing so now after hearing him speak, but your point is important, since it demonstrates that not everyone can agree which book is better. Reading is subjective and because of this there will always be debates among academics and the masses of what constitutes a “great” work.
I agree – that’s what I was wondering about. Is it the elite educated authors who are shocked/horrified at the authors who are now able to make millions on a ‘trashy’ novel rather than putting the effort into writing an award that’s nominated for the ‘grand prizes’ like the Pulitzer and the Man-Booker.
I think some “serious” authors are a little baffled by the masses. Just because some may not think a novel is worthy of praise and financial success doesn’t negate the fact that thousands of readers may like it and the author will make a ton of money. Maybe some of them are sore losers and want to tear others down to feel better about themselves.
I believe that literature in the classical sense, as most of us have known it in school, might be dying, but not writing. There are more writers out there than we have the time to read. With self-publishing methods is so much more possible to write freely, people need to express themselves and they are doing it any way they can. Blogging is the new publishing way without being artists of the pen. In hundred years some of our writing will become the new literature and some of us will be seen in school texts or theatre’s play, if all of this will still exist.
I am very curious how future generations will perceive texts, blogs, emails and such. I’ve studied history for years and I know that diaries, journals, and letters are such an important part of historical record. I cringe for the historians who will have to piece together emails and texts to form their evidence. That just seems like a lot of work. They might also be a treasure trove.
You make a good point that writing and writers are evolving all of the time. This can complicate such terms like literature, since it can be somewhat restrictive.
I don’t think that literature is coming to an end – heavens forbid! What could be happening is that an awful lot of what I call supermarket books are being published to meet the market that also read the women’s celebrity mags and that’s fine too (I hope that when I eventually finish my novel it doesn’t turn out to be like that!!!) but the sheer volume is overwhelming. Also I don’t mean that all the books in supermarkets are like that, I hope you know what I mean 🙂 of course lots of very good books can be bought there.
There are more and more books being published these days since more doors are available to writers, such as self-publishing. And you have a valid point, excellent books, decent books, and so-so books can all be purchased in the same types of stores. And the public has more of a voice as to what will sell and what will become popular. And the public, via blogs and the internet, are, I think, more involved in determining what will be considered “great.”
Hmmmm…good questions. But since you asked, these are all just my personal opinions. When I think of literature, I think of the well written work that stands out from the usual poems, novels, and other books, and stands the test of time. I think of classics, masterpieces, famous poets, great artists of words which result in a mental painting when you read it, whether it’s what the author intended or not, etc., etc. I’m not sure, but have there been many of those types of work lately. There are definitely good books coming out all the time, but would they be classified as literature? Would the authors be remembered 100+ years from now? I don’t really know.
“A mental painting when you read it” I love that description. I marvel how some writers seem to accomplish this with ease. I think it is hard to judge books during our own time. Like art the appreciation and respect evolves over the years.
No. No, I do not think literature is doomed.
Just the thought of such a thing makes me want to cry my eyes out. The human story will never exhaust itself. Mr. Jacobson must not have children, or he would know this.
I think the power of storytelling will persist over the years. The thought, I agree, is depressing. To be honest, I’m not sure if he has children. I checked wikipedia briefly and didn’t see any mention of children. However, I know that wikipedia does not always provide the most accurate information.
I think I’m going to jump back in and have a second crack at this. Art forms come and go. Opera is still performed, and has a rabid cult audience, but from my point of view is Opera a vital, living, and growing art form? No. Opera is dead. Wagner lives but opera does not. Classical music is in much the same state. Beethoven, Mozart, a few others are alive and vital but symphonic classical music is dead. Music isn’t dead but those versions of it are.
Literature is in much the same state (not as far gone but…). we will always have (fill in your idea here..)Roth?, Updike? Amis? Twain? Melville? Balzac? Proust? Dostoevsky? Bolano? etc. but literature as a living form of written communication? Probably not. Writing/storytelling as a way of expressing ideas and thoughts, yes…literature, doubtful. How woudl Beethoven put it…
Tweet, tweet ,tweet, Blog!
Tweet, tweet ,tweet, Blog!
Amazon, Amazon, Amazon,
Amazon, Amazon, Amazon,
Amazon! Amazon! Amazon!
I love that you came back for a second crack. And you have very interesting ideas Robert. I love your theory that all art forms evolve over time, which isn’t a bad thing. I believe this evolution is an important part of history. If artists kept using the same methods and kept producing the same types of art the people would lose interest. Times, history, the environment, and people change and adapt to new ways of life and this changes how they express themselves via their art.
I often wonder how texting, blogging, and emails will change written communication. Will novels be written that only include lol, btw, ect.
Your Beethoven comment cracked me up btw 🙂
I’m going to have to say I semi-agree. Literature does seem like it is doomed and most likely, with the state of our young today only reading Twilight and The Hunger Games, it will keep getting worse. But everyone is writing a novel? I doubt it. In fact, people today are writing less and less since they can contribute to short, small answers on computers and blogs. They no longer take to write out an actual plot line with a hidden answer like Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
You named two of my favorite writers. I do think many more people are getting published due to self-publishing, but you raise an interesting point. That doesn’t mean that more people are writing today, we just see more of what is written. I think there have been struggling authors since the days novels started to show up in print. We are just more aware.
There have been novels of the ‘quality’ of Twilight around as long as the written word has existed. Their popularity is not a sign of doom and gloom. The majority of readers of “literature” also have their guilty pleasures. Popularity of “popcorn” books is no indicator of the intelligence of the reader nor of their overall tastes. Many of my absolute favorite books, books that I re-read with regularity, are lesser fare when compared to great literature of the past or great literary fiction today. The love of ‘lesser fare’ in no way inhibits my enjoyment of or my access to “literature”. And it is important to remember that some of the works that are considered classics today are only that way because they have stood the test of time. At the time of their publication they were fiction for the masses. They were the Twilight of their day in regards to mass popularity
Someone once told me that novels that you call “popcorn” are like candy for the brain. It is just good to sit down and relish a story even if they aren’t “literature.” I do enjoy
“serious” novels by authors that are considered great, but I also enjoy novels that are just pure fun. And I read all four of in the Twilight series and enjoyed them all (the last one wasn’t the best, but I still enjoyed it). I haven’t read the Hunger Games yet but I intend to. I’m just glad there are authors out there who kids love to read. I worked in a bookstore when the last Harry Potter came out and her fan base impressed the heck out of me. A whole generation of kids could not wait to get their hands on the book. I don’t remember an author that had that kind of popularity when I was growing up.
I think Charles Dickens is a great example of a writer who stood the test of time, but during his era he was a “popular” storyteller.
What novels do you reread Carl? Maybe when we aren’t doing a group read we can do a buddy read.
We are about to do one of my more frequent re-reads, Neverwhere. Stardust and The Graveyard Book, Smoke and Mirrors also by Gaiman, are books that I re-read. Dracula is one. Late last year I re-read the LOTR trilogy and I’ll be doing that again in future years. The first three Stainless Steel Rat novels (published in one volume under The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat). A World Out of Time by Larry Niven. The Han Solo novels written back in the late 70’s/early 80’s by Brain Daley. I can definitely see myself re-reading some of the Heinlein juveniles I’ve read over the last few years. Every so often I re-read one or more of the Anne of Green Gables books. Susanna Clarke’s short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is one I will re-read every so often. Scalzi’s Old Man’s War novels.
Carl you never cease to amaze me. You do have quite a list of books you like to enjoy over and over again. Tolkien is one author I love to go back to. And I love The Great Gatsby. I still have not read any Anne of Green Gables, but loved the miniseries when I was a kid. I should pick up the series. Dracula is a book that I’ll have to read again…I loved that one. I’m excited to start Neverwhere! Who knows, you may hook me on Gaiman like you have with Sanderson.
Certainly not much the pundits would call “literature” in that list of books, but when a book clicks with me in a special way I tend to want to revisit those characters often. On the nonfiction front I re-read Anne Fadiman’s two essay collections–At Small, At Large and Ex Libris–every year and I also like to re-read Sallyann J. Murphey’s book about relocating from the city to the country, Bean Blossom Dreams, every few years. All three of those books are inspiring to me.
Sounds like an interesting talk, and you ask a very interesting question. I hope literature is not coming to an end. Evolving, probably, but I don’t see it coming to an end. Perhaps it’s a bit like photography. There are complaints from classical photographers about how everyone with a digital camera is claiming to be a photographer, and that anything done to edit a photo makes it less than photography because it isn’t real. Yet there are others who say it’s great that the world of photography has been shaken up, and allowed new photographers to emerge, as well as given photographers new tools to use in their craft.
I like to think that literature is evolving as well. Great comparison to photography and the increase in the amount of people who now take photos. I hadn’t thought of that, but it is along the same lines. Technology has allowed more people to get out there with cameras and to have their pictures seen via the internet and such. And like writing, photography is an art that spurs much discussion about what is “true” art and what is “amateur”. Great insight and thanks for sharing.
Thought provoking_ which I’m sure was his purpose. While I do think there are many people publishing whose work wouldn’t measure up to the high standards of “literature”, my hope is that creative minds will continue to find a reason to write and share. Perhaps our method of reading is entering a new phase but I keep finding new authors that I enjoy reading.Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Larsen’s The Works of T.S. Spivet were two recent reads that particularly appealed. Literature? Only time will tell.
I haven’t read the two authors you mentioned but I will keep an eye out for copies of their books when I’m in the library. It would be a shame if writers just stopped writing…and to be honest, I don’t see that happening. But like you said, only time will tell if new books will be considered literature. If they stand the test of time, then they have a good shot.
I started the Finkler Question but somehow I could not get into it if you know what I mean,
And i really do not know how one would defrine literature – not chick books I would say sic
Somebody asked me for a link to ‘the elegance of a hedgehog’ (free ebook) and said it was very good, google it maybe that is literature?
I haven’t read any of his works, but I’m curious about them. He said that one of his novels was about table tennis. That surprised me. I’ll have to look into the Hedgehog novel. From what I hear it is very popular. Thanks for the tip!
Well that depends… I love to read and will that love die with me? I see my students now more interested in ipads, video games and movies… so literature could die… BUT maybe the kindle or other e-reader will please that feel of electronics while also offering something to read?
It seems many ideas are already taken, used, and recycled… but everyone once in awhile something new, or exciting comes along and fires up the reading frenzy, but along with that eventually comes a movie. BUT without the book there would have been no blockbuster… which may in turn build desire to read the book? Almost like a chicken and the egg sort of question.
Well let’s hope that the kindle and e-readers will help hook young people on books. J. K. Rowling did such a good thing when she got kids reading again. I wonder if someone else can ever duplicate the excitement over another series. I sure hope so. When I was young I loved to read. I come from a whole family of readers. None of us read the same types of books, but all of us would be reading something.
It is wonderful when a writer releases something that is just so fresh and amazing. I think as long as there are people, there will be storytellers. Some people just can’t help but tell stories.
Kudos to you for being a teacher. That is a tough job, but oh so important. I am a big believer in education and thank you for your hard work.
Thanks… it certaily isn’t easy some days.
I love to read and have been encouraging my class to read and open them to new books…
Yes there always will be story tellers and lets hope there is something out there that captures our imaginations the way JK Rowling did… It is always so great to get lost in a book and leave your troubles.