Literature - Stuck in a Rut?

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by SpoiledPrincess, Oct 5, 2007.

  1. SpoiledPrincess

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    I'm widely read, I don't stick to what's classically considered 'literature' because my belief is that the prime reason for reading a work of fiction is to entertain not to educate oneself, so while I love works like The Canterbury Tales, Utopia, The Faery Queen, Beowulf, I could not force myself for instance to finish The Vision of Piers Plowman, Plato's Symposium, The Green Knight, because they're not actually a good read and the only reason I'd be reading them would be to 'educate' myself on the evolution of writing. But what I find with recently written books is that they're instantly forgettable (and I read everything from works which are considered controversial, to best sellers, to books that are considered in some way innovative).

    Has writing come to the end of the line? Where earlier writers were inventing new verse forms, discovering the joys of characterisation, setting down patterns for other writers to improve on. Each new period bought new 'innovations' to writing but has it now all been done and all we'll be reading are regurgitations of things already writ?
     
  2. drgirth

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    I do believe, SP, that literature of the western world is in a rut. It has become like everything in our lives: the quickest thrill, being entertained without being made to think, etc. etc. I admit I enjoy picking up and reading something from Stephen King or George R. R. Martin, but, when I'm done, it's over and I never think about them again.

    Over the past 5 years, though, I've made a point of reading all of Charles Dickens's novels. They are reads of a lifetime. I travel a lot by air in the US and to Europe, and reading is what I do when I fly. A few months ago, I finished Dickens's "Dombey and Son" on a trip back from the UK and I actually cried on the plane. No modern book could do that to me. He, and many other "first world" writers of the late 19th and early 20th century wrote for a cause, for the trampling of the middle classes by the elite, about the hard lives most typical people live (think Faulkner in the US). Now it's all about plot and action - not about making a differnce in the world.

    The best literature today comes from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia. Places where novels can still make a difference. Like Dickens did in a different time and place.
     
  3. Pecker

    Pecker Retired Moderator
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    Everything that could be written has been written. :tongue:

    I tend to read A. Conan Doyle, R. L. Stevenson, Daniel Defoe, etc.
     
  4. SpoiledPrincess

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    I do read a lot of horror stuff, it's just pap but entertaining, but deep down I want to read a book that scares my knickers off, has my heart beating faster and makes me reach for the phone to book the exorcist in.
     
  5. classyron

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    Read something by William Gibson (sci-fi... real sci-fi), Toni Morrison or Don DeLillo and you will see that writing is not dead. I have been reading Bukowski lately, and it is entertaining.
     
  6. SpoiledPrincess

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    I don't really rate Toni Morrison, I think she's technically a good writer but she's not doing anything new. So many writers of the present time are like McDonalds, they're ok for a quick snack but nothing to get your teeth into. If you read Donne for instance you can go back to him time and time again and find something new, the depth of meaning he managed to get into a few lines may have been produced in part by the social restrictions placed on sex in the 17th century but he and the other metaphysical poets were doing something that was new, the same with the Victorian writers, for the first time they were really exploring characterisation, and while post WWII writers aren't my cup of tea you can see in their often bleak prose a striving to find some artistic integrity, some sort of getting down to the bones of writing.
     
  7. Quite Irate

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    You should check out: The Best Novels You’ve Never Read - Book Hunt 2007 -- New York Magazine

    As for being stuck in a rut, you have to remember - we only read the good stuff that people wrote in the past. The bad stuff just doesn't survive because, well, it's bad. When you read the famous works, you're reading the best (well, I'd rather not debate that - say, the most popular) works of a time. The great thing about the world is that there are so many people. Someone, somewhere is always doing something innovative, fantastic, useful...the list goes on. I rejoice in the world's ability to constantly do something wonderful, whatever the circumstances.
    Don't get bogged down by unfortunate trends. If all new music was just as bad as the pop crap the public adores, I'd have killed myself by now. It may not be apparent to you right now, but I guarantee that there's no end to the amount of high quality literature being created at this very moment. You just have to look for it a little harder than the classics, that's all.
     
  8. SpoiledPrincess

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    Yeah a good point that only the good stuff survived, although how Piers Plowman is still with us may disprove that point :)
     
  9. Guy-jin

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    Good writing is not dead, it's just hard to find on bookshelves filled with junk. I read a lot of non-fiction, some of which is very good, but there is some good fiction still out there.

    I recommend Haruki Murakami. Try The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles if you're jaded about the state of fiction currently.
     
  10. jack99821

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    I just read The Reluctant Fundamentalist by some guy I don't remember right now (hey, it's one in the morning...). It was fairly brilliant and incredibly poignant, and was written in such a way that different readers will come away with completely different takes on the storyline. It's told entirely in the Pakistani narrator's voice (a one-sided conversation, specifically. You never see or hear the other character) as he tells his life story to an American man traveling abroad.

    classyron mentioned William Gibson- I can't vouch for him as I generally dislike scifi, but I LOVED his Pattern Recognition. It felt truly unique to me.

    Stephen King is generally a read the book, love it at the time, forget about it later sort of author, but as I've said before, I can't recommend Lisey's Story enough. It's the culmination of his unique parentheticals he occasionally dabbles in, most notably in It before Lisey. Lisey herself is an outstanding character as well.

    I also enjoyed Mark Haddon's the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. Novels generally don't affect me on an emotional level, but curious did. If you don't want to feel hollow for a while after reading it, though, I wouldn't recommend picking it up.

    Heyday was excellent. It's astonishing how detailed the backdrops are... it's as if the author built a time machine to research his book.

    You can't really go wrong with Paulo Coelho, either. I'd suggest The Alchemist as a starting point, followed by whichever moral issue you're most interested in (each of his books corresponds to one).

    At the risk of sounding silly, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz is incredible. It's like he randomly sat down and created a near masterpiece in between his pulpy horror books, his mysteries, and his thrillers. Forever Odd is awful however and should be avoided at all costs, even when looking for a light, fun read for a plane or the beach. Brother Odd shows promise, but it's still pulpy old Koontz. I have nothing against pulp fiction, mind you, but the topic here is "literature".

    Literature has most certainly not died, it has just changed with society. Beowulf, for instance, is far different from Rand's Atlas Shrugged, but both are masterpieces. American lit specifically is in a pulpier, easily accessible rut due to a culture shocked by 9/11 and the "war" on terror. People need to be able to escape, and authors are happy to provide for the small fee of a paperback. Also, much of the best lit is politically grounded, but at the moment anyone who publishes anything vaguely critical of Washington is branded unamerican and boycotted.

    There's still much to be found if you look hard enough.
     
  11. HazelGod

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    Read Stephen King's The Shining.

    Also, It has some pretty terrifying moments, but the story itself if incredibly long and involved.
     
  12. dong20

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    I tried to read 'tommyknockers' (I think that was it). It has a few creepy bits but 'horror' isn't a genre I normally read and I gave up about 2/3rds in. I found King's writing style to be incredibly tedious, like wading through treacle, at least in the two of his works I picked up to read. Naturally it's subjective but I never felt engaged in the books.

    Perhaps it's me but having read widely over the years (voluntarily and as part of education) I found many of the 'classics' to be more an intellectual exercise than a serious attempt at story telling which for me is what most books should be.

    I have a lousy memory for titles and authors though and can rarely recall them for reference but I did get a buzz out of Homer, and took a trip to Turkey as a direct result of reading the lliad. A real person or not, 'his' works are among those I re-visit from time to time to soak in the atmosphere that's missing from so many of the 'classics', at least for me.

    While I don't think literature is in a rut per se, I do think there is a general 'dumbing down' trend in the quality, imagination and originality found in much contemporary literature. There seems to be a similar trend in mainstream contemporary education. It's hard not to believe the two trends are related. Sadly, for too many their expectations in both areas seems to have fallen to meet those falling standards.

    The ease with which people can publish today and the goldfish attention spans of many kids (and adults) is surely another factor in the growth of superciality I see in many works in bookshops today. Another trend I see is the growth in 'lifestyle management' and other such themes - to me this suggests far too many people are willing to believe they can become a better, more rounded and whole person merely by following some erudite wisdom in a £5.99 paperback by the latest 'guru'. As if it were as easy as following a recipe for cup cakes.

    Society is dynamic and if literature reflects the society of the day then perhaps we only have ourselves to blame, if blame be the right word. Who knows what the literature of say, 100 years from now will be. I have to say though that the cynic in me isn't optimistic. Still, there are some modern classics in the making I'm sure.
     
  13. Mr. Snakey

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    I would say so. Thank god for the old masters. Same can be said for Movies and Music:smile: We are even at a time now when painters arent using a brush. Sad. Intersting topic
     
  14. huw ginnit

    huw ginnit New Member

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    I find it very difficult to read fiction full stop, I generally can't connect with the characters or their circumstances, I always feel like the line from Alan Bennet's "Talking Heads" is proved right...

    ""If a person says "I've never been in a train crash"...you can guess that in a few pages time, that person IS going to be in a train crash.

    "I've never been in love myself " you can guarantee that love is just around the corner....saying something in a novel generally brings it on!""

    I stick to biographies....I learn so much with them.
     
  15. SpoiledPrincess

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    I didn't like The Shining, I find Stephen King to be something of a hooker when it comes to writing, I admire his honesty when he says that he writes for money but because of this I think his work betrays that he's just sitting down and throwing them out as fast as he can.

    I find some 'modern classics' to be works that are written not to entertain but in an attempt to be 'the great modern novel'.
     
  16. SpeedoGuy

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    Gawd, ain't that the truth.

    That's not to say there isn't some helpful advice to be read out there but it is amazing how many people seem to fall for the "quicky fix" method of addressing complex problems.

    Talk shows (and the books their hosts spawn) and the puzzling popularity of "Dr Phil" here in the US are great examples. The guy is an entertainer.
     
  17. Quite Irate

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    I've met Stephen King. He's probably the most boring human being on earth. He lives in the woods in Maine. It may just be that he's very private, but he comes off as incredibly dull.
     
  18. SpoiledPrincess

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    Yeah I had that impression of him and of his wife who is also a writer, but I think that really it's like kids doing homework, she hands him this crappy piece she's written and he tarts it up for her.
     
  19. Guy-jin

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    Stephen King has some very good novels from much earlier in his career. Salem's Lot comes to mind. But most of his later books are nearly unreadable, and I haven't bothered with them in a long time.
     
  20. SpeedoGuy

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    SP: Have you read Ken Kesey's two best: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion? I'm torn as to which I like better.
     
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