Monday, May 18, 2009

Today's literary culture - 5 myths

Robert McCrum at the Guardian decided to tackle the "myths" of literary culture:

Myth One: We are uniquely afflicted by cultural crap.

Myth Two: Books used to be better produced.

Myth Three: In the good old days, books were longer, and more demanding. Today, given the minuscule attention span of the Twitter Age, the classics of yesteryear will inevitably slip off the modern reader's radar.

Myth Four: Literary hype is a 21st century affliction.

Myth Five: There was a Golden Age.

McCrum goes into depth regarding each myth, casually debunking them and offering examples as to why these are false claims. It's an interesting article, not least because it actually admits that many of the claims regarding the modern literary culture are so inaccurate. I offer my own additions. For instance, literary hype? Many of the old books in my grandmother's old basement (a good thirty, forty years older than myself) have excited stickers on them exclaiming how the book is "an international bestseller!" and "over 500,000 copies sold!" or "___ critics all agree!" and of course, "[quote by famous author] ___ - 'This is a novel for our times'!". All these stickers, alongside those advertising movies, scream of literary hypes. What's curious is seeing how these books fare today. Many have survived. Often, though, the initial hype disappears and the books are judged only by their literary merit. Who'd have thought?

These myths are obviously ones McCrum invented himself just to pass his point along. Still, these are opinions that can be found easily. There's always a view that the younger generation is somehow ruining the world. With the internet, the criticisms and generation gaps have become surprisingly wider. I've found myself defending young authors from older readers stubbornly refusing to accept a new generation of writers. I've heard, all too frequently, older generations remark that authors today are nothing like [authors from their youth]. And then the "twitter" myths, the idea that people today don't read (utter nonsense) and that books today are far worse than they ever were (also completely wrong)... generalizations abound, but these are points well grounded in truth. McCrum's list may be simplified and inaccurate at times, but it's still very interesting. It may serve as inspiration for a wider debate in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I'm always suspicious of those Golden Age proponents, whether they're talking about literature, politics, manners, or whatever. Older generations have been saying this about younger generations for at least the last 5,000 years.

    We can't know yet what will be classic to generations after ours. But we can know that more books were published in the last year than ever before in human history, that more people are literate now, and that books are more accessible. Maybe we're not going to like the style of what comes after us, but it's up to posterity to judge.

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