Will Self: The Guardian: The Fate of Our Literary Culture Is Sealed

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Katie-Ellen

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Sep 25, 2014
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Do we think Mr Lugubrious Chops is on the mark? I read most, not all of the 'great classics' whilst at school, though mostly not at school. I was given books every birthday and for Christmas, that was what I wanted, and drawing materials, and I felt a happy, lucky girl to get them. Our house was full of books, there was no such thing as YA. Reading Henry Treece 'Electra' at 11, for instance, the lesbian thing, which was subtle anyway, went over my head but mostly, I 'got' Electra, and the horrific 'The Green Man' though again, I didn't quite figure exactly what had been done to Sibbi.
So, as we do, passing along whatever goodie I offered books to my daughters throughout their childhood. One bit at the bait, the other didn't, or hasn't as yet, beyond the 'Goosebumps' series. She likes her stories bite size, and funny or frightening, and watches Vines. One still reads for pleasure, especially demolishes anything by Stephen King or Joanna Trollope, but they both find anything written in the eighteenth or nineteenth century just too slow, and the language a barrier, that aged 13 I barely noticed in reading, being immersed in ,say, 'Old St Paul's, by Harrison Ainsworth, or 'Moby Dick,' or 'Far From The Madding Crowd.'

They each have their crop of 3 A Levels and more, including English Literature.

Sometimes we went to museums, fusty and dusty. Later I worked in a few. Got in trouble once for insisting on dusting the Buddha. Therese were places free to visit, that invited a long slow look at all manner of curious things in cabinets. Now, museums are more fun, let's push buttons and make things happen, don't let the kiddies ger bored... but has something been lost in the mix?

What I...what lots of us here maybe had that they didn't have was emptier Sundays, no shops open, centre of town dead, eating places mostly closed. We had empty time especially in winter, those long rainy Sundays . Bad weather, rubbish telly, books to read. Maybe that, besides IT is something to do with it. Neither is what you'sd call 'intellectual' but they each have their crop of 3 A Levels and more. What's happened between one generation and the next...a significator of lifestyle changes across the board, or of education, or is it just down to natural differences between one person and another, no big deal; readers will always read. Writers will always write.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/03/fate-literary-culture-sealed-internet-will-self
 
It's interesting that you say your daughters find 18th/19th century too slow - I find my tolerance has decreased as I've got older. I used to read classics because I felt I ought to, but now I do find many classics (most Dickens, for instance) tedious and artificial. Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure. It's also interesting that Will Self's piece triggered this, as I tried to read it and (as I often do with Will Self) gave up about half way through because life is too short for reading overblown prose like that...
 
Good one, Brian, it IS too short...I haven''t read his books and don't feel drawn to. Nor have I read James Joyce, mea culpa, and I don't plan to any time soon:eek: and I agree about Dickens, gaaahhh never could stand the Pumblechookiness. I don't think it's a bad thing, though you've consumed the product, digested it at the time and now if you spit it out, you know what you're spitting out. Not like a teen reacting to the sight of a book like a vampire to garlic, unless it's a Harry Potter. I bought one of those, once, read it at bedtime to eager child, nearly bored myself to sleep.
 
Oh heavens. I don't know about my fate or our literary culture's fate. I suppose everyone has an opinion about it, and that's fine and good for them. As for me, I'll read just about anything. I happen to love Dickens and Harry Potter, and much of what's in between the two extremes. Although I will confess I find HP far more entertaining than Charlie, and much easier to read. ;) Literature changes as society does, no? And it's all so subjective. Always was, still is, always will be. :)
 
And I keep thinking about this because I find the subject fascinating. If a person from the 18th century traveled forward in time and picked up one of our books to read - any book, in any genre, and on any subject - they'd likely find it appalling. The sentence structure would seem odd to them, the language coarse and blunt, and the subject matter would be immoral to them. Many of the words would be foreign, and concepts that we take for granted as part of everyday life, like electricity, cell phones, or automobiles, would make no sense to them. Or at least those passages would read like science fiction or the work of the devil. ;)

But what I find interesting is that even in the fast-paced digital publishing world (and yes I do wish I had started doing this decades ago when things were much slower), I still find joy in reading. A story is still a story. Great characterization is still great characterization. Intricate plotting is still a delight for me to read. The basic building blocks of any novel are still there, just as they are in the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling.

The language changes, the syntax even changes, and the day-to-day lives of the characters change. Breaking that fourth wall as Louisa May Alcott did to describe the March girls in Little Women is rarely done today, but even without that description you still have a great story and an amazing slice of life from the Civil War years and beyond.

And some writing still isn't all that tight or slow-going. From the fourth Harry Potter book on, when it's obvious she stopped letting her editor trim most of the books, we get a more fleshed-out and detailed story with secondary and even tertiary plots going on.

I guess my point is that it all depends on the reader. I still can't tear through a story quickly. I know many readers who do, and I wish like crazy they'd stop doing it and SLOW DOWN. They miss so much. Maybe I'm just old school, but even when I read a 40K romance novel from one of my contemporaries, I take my time to absorb it. There's a story there. There are characters I want to get to know. There are details I don't want to miss.

I was reading books like To Kill A Mockingbird and Jane Austen's work by the time I was ten. So maybe it's just me. I don't know. I only know I don't feel like simply because everything around me is moving at light speed, that doesn't mean I can't slow down and enjoy reading still. :)
 
People can be snooty about writers or books, but as you say, Tara, a great read is a great read. For me HP is watery, what she does has been done before, and I think, better, The Sword In The Stone, and Ursula leGuin's Earthsea or Alan Garner's Elidor, but, that's just me...can so many other readers be 'wrong'? If she gets people reading, good. People can be snooty about Joanna Trollope; she has a formula, puts one situation after another after a microscope. I see the formula, still enjoy the forensics of her laser stare, Marrying The Mistress, Other People's Children and so on. Social commentary, in a novel, no co-incidence they asked her to write a 'new Austen'...which I haven't read, has anyone else here, yet? Classics weren't classics when they started out...
 
People can be snooty about writers or books, but as you say, Tara, a great read is a great read. For me HP is watery, what she does has been done before, and I think, better, The Sword In The Stone, and Ursula leGuin's Earthsea or Alan Garner's Elidor, but, that's just me...can so many other readers be 'wrong'? If she gets people reading, good. People can be snooty about Joanna Trollope; she has a formula, puts one situation after another after a microscope. I see the formula, still enjoy the forensics of her laser stare, Marrying The Mistress, Other People's Children and so on. Social commentary, in a novel, no co-incidence they asked her to write a 'new Austen'...which I haven't read, has anyone else here, yet? Classics weren't classics when they started out...

Ah yes. We have labeled them "classic" because… why? LOL! They're still around? Our children still read them in high school English classes, or in college level English Lit classes? Or is it because you can now find most of them for free on Kindle? I'm joking. But seriously, sometimes when my husband and I go to antique stores, I love to look through the dusty old books and find a gem that no one would label a "classic," but which I find wonderful. Some person took the time to write that, and a publisher took a chance on it. And there it sits, getting old and fragile. When I can take it home and read it, I feel as if I've put value on that unknown person's work. :)
 
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I guess my point is that it all depends on the reader. I still can't tear through a story quickly. I know many readers who do, and I wish like crazy they'd stop doing it and SLOW DOWN. They miss so much. Maybe I'm just old school, but even when I read a 40K romance novel from one of my contemporaries, I take my time to absorb it. There's a story there. There are characters I want to get to know. There are details I don't want to miss.
I think it does depend enormously on a reader. I'm still a relatively fast reader, but as a child I was a ridiculously fast reader. Given an article and time that was supposedly enough to skim read in class, I could read it in detail... twice!

People often assumed I missed things/didn't read a story thoroughly, but only till they quizzed me on the story and realised I'd retained everything in minute detail.

I'm not nearly so fast these days, though my natural/comfortable reading speed is still faster than average (and I still retain detail despite it), but some people are just naturally quicker readers without skimming or missing stuff.

I've always found Will Self a bit up his own backside, to be honest, but it takes all sorts! I've tried to read a couple of his books but... nah.

I love Austen, loathe Dickens, love the Gawain poet and Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marquez and Ondaatje, Ian McEwan, but similarly, love Marian Keyes and Harry Potter, and at the same time think Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown are hacks.. I do think that to some degree one can objectively say this book is better written than that, but read what I enjoy and what entertains me... I don't think that time spent reading Harry Potter is a waste or that time spent reading Shakespeare is necessarily more virtuous...

(I also tend to think that these "woe unto us, the present generation are talentless hacks with terrible taste" sounds pretty familiar, and I'm sure some people said things like that about Shakespeare in his day!)
 
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... I don't think that time spent reading Harry Potter is a waste or that time spent reading Shakespeare is necessarily more virtuous...

(I also tend to think that these "woe unto us, the present generation are talentless hacks with terrible taste" sounds pretty familiar, and I'm sure some people said things like that about Shakespeare in his day!)
Exactly. :)
 
And the young of today *wrings hands*...

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers -” Socrates.
 
Haha - yes, exactly!

Also, reading this thread again: "the fate of our literary future is sealed" - can we say drama queen???
 
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