March 18, 2010

The erstwhile novelist David Shields says that fiction "has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself."

He's "bored by out-and-out fabrication, by myself and others; bored by invented plots and invented characters."

So begins an article by Michiko Kakutani that immediately veers off into another subject (the way the internet is changing us). I'm especially interested in the shift away from fiction. It's happened to me personally over the last couple decades, and I wonder why it is. It's not just about the internet, I think: It's also a loss of faith in what fiction-writers have to say, and it goes along with our rejection of Freudian analysis.


rhhardin said...

Any story with an airplane was good when I was a kid.

Freud spent an essay speculating on his kid throwing a spool ("fort") on a string and drawing it back ("da") repeatedly. What could it be. Freud offered many interpretations, finally not settling on any.

He was such a good writer than the analogy between what he was doing at that moment (speculating) and what the kid was doing kept him from concluding.

Wahrheit said...

Maybe we just got older; I still read some smaller portion of fiction, but well done history and biography seem more compelling now than most any current fiction. When I was a kid science fiction was my big thing, but the wonder of that has also faded with time. Reading about the struggle for the mastery of Europe and such never gets old. I wonder why?

lucid said...

What a wonderfully interesting topic and obsevation, Ann.

I have found it more difficult to reade serious fiction, perhaps for the very reason you suggest. A turning point may have been when I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. There was a lot in the book that I loved, but then Ondaatje gathered some of his threads into tired anti-colonialist cant and cliche, and I just lost heart and never wanted to read anything else by him.

I do not trust most authors to know truths but rather suspect them of stacking the fictional deck to support and disguise their ordinary opinions. I only like those who do not take themselves entirely seriously and let the reader know this.

And while I am certainly not a Freudian, and in that sense reject Freudian analysis, I am accepting of unconscious motivations, the influence of early experience, and the possibility of change through experience, including experience in therapy.

Scott M said...

Not a sci-fi fan, then, I take it. Good sci-fi has always managed to make explicit social commentary in fantastic and improbable settings.

Lynne said...

I gave up on fiction in the 90s when the rage for doorstop-sized, 5lb "magical realism" novels took over the market.
I got fed up.
"Magical realism" is for people who can't see the magic in real life. We're surrounded by amazing things that we refuse to see daily- we don't need fairy tales for grownups.
It takes more imagination to see what's really there.

magpie said...

Time is the culprit. Time, and age. I recently found myself sitting in a hospital and rehab center waiting for long periods of time, and I could have been on the computer, but I read instead. It was wonderful. Long stretches with novels and non-fiction. It wasn't under the best of circumstances, but it was a silver lining.

magpie said...

I might add that at the moment I rarely read anything written after WW2. Much better stuff.

Andre said...

Sometimes the simple answer is the true one. Outside of genre fictions, contemporary fiction is unabashedly awful. It's post-modern intellectual masturbators posing for other post-modern intellectual masturbators. When the notion of telling a compelling narrative is actively looked down on, it shouldn't be a surprise that my Kindle is loaded with histories and biographies.

tim maguire said...

As a young man I read some story about the reading habits of a group of people (probably the essayist's friends) and one scientist stood out for the statement "I read very little fiction." I remember my wonderment at his voluntarily cutting himself off from worlds of great writing.

Today I read very little fiction. As with Wahrheit, history, biography, and some pop science does it for me. I think it's a natural part of the process of growing up and maturing.

But while I dismiss the internet as a culprit, I do hold the word processor up for some ridicule and blame. Ease of rewriting has led to overly long overly wordy tomes that don't justify the page count. Brevity is lost on far too many writers, and editors these days don't seem up to the task of reining them in.

mariner said...

It's not so much a shift AWAY from fiction, just a shift in which fiction is told, and where and how.

Why read other literary fiction when you can read the New York Times?

David said...

It's also a lot of extremely bad writing.

Chick lit crap prose is not confined to chick lit.

In fact, it's unfair to blame the chick litterers. They are just recyclers.

David said...

On the other hand, Phillip Roth is still out there. He can still write, even though he's old. Actually, because he's old. I just read Exit Ghost--first novel I've read in a couple of years. They guy still has it.

edutcher said...

Warheit and mariner may have a point; if you were exposed to the good stuff (which puts you in the OLD category), you may have less time for new stuff which may not be as good.

Frankly, I read Freud later in life and still find him interesting, as well as rewarding. Of course, I feel the same way about Tolstoy and Byron.

Then again, given what's happening these days, who needs fiction? DC is as surreal as anything Poe ever wrote.

kalmia said...

I gave up reading fiction a couple of decades ago, too--especially literary fiction, which I used to avidly devour. Then I read an article in The Atlantic by B. R. Meyers that hit it on the head for me. It was eventually published as "A Reader's Manifesto" by B. R. Meyers ("An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose").

Irene said...

I also have lost my taste for fiction. I don't think it's a product of age because my mother continues to read it.

I always find, a place for Tolstoy, however.

I no longer enjoy fictional movies, either. Perhaps I do not feel the urge for an "escape." I much rather would watch a documentary.

Irene said...

^ (Pardon the misplaced comma.)

Hoosier Daddy said...

Good sci-fi has always managed to make explicit social commentary in fantastic and improbable settings.

Pournelle is good for that although I will say there is a real dearth of decent sci-fi at the moment. It's discouraging when I'm scoping the sci-fi-fantasy aisles at Borders, et al; and half of the shlock on the shelves are paperbackcovers of half naked vampire babes or half naked vampire killer babes or some half naked combo thereof.

Chip Ahoy said...

The last novels I read were out loud for Mary. Ever do that, a whole book? Recommendation: Chapstick™.

That's if you don't count pop-up books and, Man, do I ever READ them. It's also not counting autobiographies, which I learned from a recent crossword are considered novels.

Historical novels are good too because although they're not exactly what happened, they're the sort of thing that could have happened. With license, they're able to breath life into characters, places, and periods.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I will say that I am reading Stirling's Emberverse series which is pretty decent although it is stretching my ability to suspend disbelief, at least in terms of segments of the country reverting to medievalism after technology disappears.

d-day said...

I love fiction, but let's be real here: Modern fiction sucks as bad as modern art does.

Genre fiction is where it's at. At least it knows what it's for. Romance FTW!

Hoosier Daddy said...

Historical novels are good too because although they're not exactly what happened, they're the sort of thing that could have happened.

Michael Shaara's God's and Generals, Killer Angels and Last Full Measure are notable standouts in this genre.

t-man said...

Reading modern fiction is a waste of time. There may be hidden gems, but there are no reliable guides to find them.

I've been going back to the original sources of Western literature lately. I just picked up the complete works of Aristophanes.

Slightly OT, I've got translations of the original Greek and Roman historians, but I'm not familiar with what original sources are available in translation for other
parts of the ancient world, China, Persia (from a Persian's perspective), etc. Any suggestions?

PatCA said...

I agree that it's no longer central to our culture, and the same applies to film, because it suggests that there is no such thing as "culture" which is after all something that humans supposedly share. The last 40-50 years of the anti-hero, of post-structuralism and post-narrative storytelling, posits otherwise.

The good news, I suppose, is that this rejection signals that the post-human period is ending. I discussed with some friends the possibility of an affirmative, human literary model--or does it then become genre fiction?

The movie Brick Lane suggests to me that such fiction is possible. Perhaps we can return to storytelling that is shared and human and real, without selling out.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm especially interested in the shift away from fiction. It's happened to me personally over the last couple decades, and I wonder why it is.

Same here. I assumed it was just my getting older and forming more defined preferences. But these two things really probably are big contributors:

It's also a loss of faith in what fiction-writers have to say, and it goes along with our rejection of Freudian analysis.

A friend and I recently discussed why it is that she loves fiction to the exclusion of non-fiction and I am the exact opposite. She said that what she liked about (high quality) fiction was the exploration of larger truths. I said that that could be interesting from the non-fiction standpoint of then evaluating the validity of the writer's proposed larger truth.

Fiction is, I think, mentally seductive. People are more likely to accept the writer's conception of reality, regardless of its truth, if it's veiled in an interesting story. I think that's why I generally don't like fiction.

My friend and I also discussed that in regards to what we would let our kids read at what ages. Take Catcher in the Rye for example. Very well written, very seductive to adolescents, but promoting an entirely malformed view of the world. So do you buy that for your teenager knowing that he might be taken in by it?

halojones-fan said...

I read lots of fiction. Of course, it's totally mis-shelved in the "history" and "biography" and "current events" sections, but it is fiction nonetheless.

Michael said...

I don't believe it has anything to do with the internet. The observation that the move from fiction accompanies our rejection of Freudian analysis sounds about right. But also the storytelling got sloppy and tiresome. I read fiction, literary fiction they now call it, exclusively until I was in my middle forties. Ellen Gilchrist, Richard Ford, Don Delillo, Peter Taylor were among my favorites. I read all the other stuff as well, that tiresome Thomas Pynchon and troops of his followers for example. Then suddenly almost I turned to history and then to the Romans and Greeks. Now I read a bit of Japanese fiction, Haruki Murakami and Edward Gibbon and Charles Dickens. Go figure. "bored by out-and-out fabrication" says it pretty well.

Balfegor said...

re: t-man:

For China, the authoritative early history would be Sima Qian's (or Ssu-ma Chien's) Records of the Grand Historian. This covers the history of China, with some records about nearby lands, from ancient prehistory up until the middle of the former Han Dynasty. I believe there is a complete translation in English by Burton Watson. The Annals of Spring and Autumn (with the Commentary of Zuo) and the Classic of History are two somewhat earlier historical records assembled during the late Zhou period, and form part of the Confucian canon -- the Five Classics. I understand that they are somewhat more obscure and pared down than Sima Qian.

The Records of the Grand Historian were continued, during the Later Han, by Pan Ku and his sister, Pan Chao, who recorded the history of the Former Han dynasty. From that point on, there is a continuing series of historical records covering essentially the whole of official Chinese history. I don't think that the whole set have actually been translated into English, though.

Re: persian histories, I don't know any myself, but I would recommend the Baburnama, the autobiography of Babur, the Mughal conqueror of India.

cathy said...

V. S Naipal wrote a short book on this which said that Dickens developed the novel to fine art, but after Dickens had done a few books the form was already redundant. I like Naipal. I guess his books are non-fiction, anecdotal, cultural observation.

Salamandyr said...

Pournelle is good for that although I will say there is a real dearth of decent sci-fi at the moment. It's discouraging when I'm scoping the sci-fi-fantasy aisles at Borders, et al; and half of the shlock on the shelves are paperbackcovers of half naked vampire babes or half naked vampire killer babes or some half naked combo thereof.

As much as I hate the tide of Urban Fantasy chick-lit that has invaded the aisles of the Fantasy/Sci-fi section, there is still as much good stuff being written as ever; it's just sharing space with the Laurell K. Hamilton wannabe's. As an aside, I find it hilarious that the most sexist covers are always the books aimed at women.

Couldn't stand Sirling's "Emberverse" novels. The second one actually fell apart from the force of my disdain. Fundamentalist Wiccan's showing the Christians how to get it done, Ex-Marines with a penchant for quoting old Finnish, but who throw the principles they once swore to defend by the wayside, English who speak like bad parodies of Masterpiece Theatre...oh that book had it all. My favorite bit was when the Finnish anti-American Marine was daydreaming how great it would be to recruit a trained swordsman, and on the next page Lo! a trained swordsman shows up!

traditionalguy said...

Lynne @ 2:06./..You nailed it. A long novel with deep character development and a good story line can help us understand ourselves and others a little bit better. But today's super hero romances based upon a smarter and better protagonist conquering evil mutant people is an escape into fantasy. And fantasy is boring compared to reality around us everywhere.

El Pollo Real said...

Chick lit crap prose is not confined to chick lit.

I resemble that remark.

magpie said...

"Historical novels are good too because although they're not exactly what happened, they're the sort of thing that could have happened."

Patrick O'Brian. Aubrey/Maturin series. Best ever.

ricpic said...

I second David on Philip Roth. By plugging away long after fiction has gone out of fashion he has written some doozies: Sabbath's Theater; American Pastoral; The Human Stain. His latest, The Humbling, which I read as a comment on ego and its final undoing, is a shocker.

Pete said...

In an essay, Nick Hornby wrote that while he was researching his Young Adult novel, he found the YA novels he was reading to be the most compelling contemporary fiction out there. Solid plots, important themes, interesting characters, all resolved in a satisfactory manner. What else could ask from a piece of good fiction. I found the same thing when I was searching for YA novels for my daughters to read. Sure, a lot of 'em are filled with PC claptrap, just like mainstream fiction, but at least the author's respect the audience.

(I stuck with the YA novels I could remember from my youth. They were as good as I remembered.)

New York said...

It's because today's writers don't have the patience or imagination to create interesting characters or make insightful observations.

Instead they sneer, intellectualize banalities and play word games.

Think about Jonathan Franzen compared to Thomas Mann.

The previous generation of Brits had some good writers ie. Lessing, Barnes etc

Henry said...

I read to my kids. That's pretty hit and miss.

I gave up on fiction many years ago. Fiction insists on inventing predictable complications and drawing inexorably to conclusions. I prefer History. History still has the capacity to surprise.

The other works I read are the great poems -- The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Inferno, Beowulf. We live in a golden age of translation -- there are many modern poets and scholars whose translations make these works completely accessible. They reveal a world that is awful and beautiful and terribly strange. They are endlessly surprising.

Balfegor said...

Sure, a lot of 'em are filled with PC claptrap, just like mainstream fiction . . .

Yes, but you get the equivalent in all time periods. The Victorians, with their prudery, etc. My favourite example is how smutty old Chinese novels always end up with the promiscuous getting their just comeuppances (castration, cuckoldry, etc.) Other people talk about Satan in Paradise Lost. You can ignore all that, as it's usually not central to the story, just whatever rubbish moral the author wants (or at least is obliged to pretend to want) the reader to come away with.

Blue@9 said...

To some extent I think fiction is for the young. Youth are seeking out new experiences and the thrill of feeling certain emotions for the very first time. Good fiction can do that.

One of my favorite books as a teenager was Anna Karenina; it put me through tremendous highs and lows, and when I finished it it felt like I had lost an old friend.

But I don't think I could read it today. I just don't have the energy or desire to have my emotions yanked about. My actual life is exciting/boring/terrifying/maddening enough. Why would I want a ride on someone else's fictional rollercoaster?

Foobarista said...

I wonder if it's the same reason I don't like much modern art: I really hate the feeling that something unpleasant is being shoved down my throat. In both fiction and art, the author's generally far-left politics and juvenile "critique of society" tend to be far too naked. Many movies are the same way.

It all feels like a political ad, and if I flip the remote to something else, go admire the Old Masters, classic fiction/SF, or some more "aesthetic" modern art, so much the better for me.

I can do without yet another lecture about the evils of suburbia, materialism, evil whities, etc etc - and I certainly won't pay for it.

Michael said...

Henry: I read The Illiad to my son every night beginning when he was about 6. He would fall asleep and I would read on a bit. He remembers very little of it now that he is 13 but occasionally I will hear him use a phrase or name a character that is evocative of those bloody nights those years ago.

Dave said...

I am longtime reader of Shields dating back to his days as an actual fiction writer and am looking forward to reading this book as well.

I still read fiction as often as I can (4-5 novels a month), but I've shifted my focus from Big Important Books to crime fiction and noir stories.

traditionalguy said...

We all live lives that seem to be adrift without an anchor. Fiction used to explore that facinating truth, and develop characters with varying ways to deal with that "Reality". Yet the basic structure of society around us seemed to be steady, and adults intentionally kept it that way. The strange desire for more chaos instead of more order is the newest development...and it is that water into which pirates like Hoffman and Obama came to do their best business of organised robbery.

Blue@9 said...

Henry: I read The Illiad to my son every night beginning when he was about 6.

Wow, really? The Iliad is an incredibly graphically violent book. Homer did not mince words about bloody nature of bronze age warfare.

rcocean said...

"Reading modern fiction is a waste of time. There may be hidden gems, but there are no reliable guides to find them.

Agree with that. After wasting my time reading some "great" modern novelists, I gave up. But I like Historical fiction and the old classics (Pre-1960) which is "historical fiction" in a way.

BTW, I think your attraction to fiction, movies, TV shows, declines as you get older. Partly its "been there done that", partly your own life is more interesting, but also you experience life and realize how phony/unrealistic many writers are.

Alex said...

For myself I keep balanced with history, fiction(mostly sci-fi), manga, sports biographies and technical articles. There is no either/or.

Alex said...

BTW, Avatar's $3 billion at the box office would argue that the public's appetite for fantasy is insatiable.

Alex said...


The strange desire for more chaos instead of more order is the newest development...

Maybe among some hippie stoned-out types, but don't count me in this "trend". I def want more order to the universe, less entropy.

lemondog said...

American writers molded against the backdrop of 19-20th century raw, vibrant America-coming-of-age, global social upheavels, political revolutions, tyrants, the Great Depression, world wars, had rich resources

American writers molded by the 70's. 80's and 90's......not so much.

The next 2 decades?

LordSomber said...

"Fiction 'has never seemed less central to the culture’s sense of itself.'"
There's only one antidote to bad fiction: (drumroll)... Reality TV!

traditionalguy said...

Alex...That makes you an honorary traditionalist. The traditionalist believes in live and let live in peace, within the known societal boundaries (law) such as private property laws, or we will hurt or even kill you, right after your trial by Jury. That is a totally different tradition from a divine right King/Emperor rulership where the king owns everything because we submit when he says so.

sydney said...

I still enjoy fiction, but not so much modern fiction. I've been reading Tolstoy, H.G. Wells, and Waugh lately. I rarely find anything of interest in the fiction portion of the New York Times Book Review anymore. It used to be my primary source of finding good books.

There was one recent novel I did enjoy - Island of the World by Michael O'Brien. Very well done, but he isn't the type of author who gets reviewed by the New York Times.

Pogo said...

My current favorite piece of fiction used to be found in 'Nonfiction'.

It begins "We the People...", a phrase that now sounds as much a fantasy as "Call me Ishmael", and similarly doomed.

Penny said...

Has anyone who commented so far read the attached article from the NYT's?

It's not about what you think it's about based on Althouse's heading.

In fact, some of it is about how we have all become part of the culture of "headlines" and "online social groups".

For as much as I have enjoyed hearing about everyone's reading habits, I URGE YOU ALL to take the time to read this article in the NYT's. You may learn more than you wish to learn. Or maybe not?

Blue@9 said...

Has anyone who commented so far read the attached article from the NYT's?

Like I said, I have little tolerance for fiction as I age.

Synova said...

"“Who owns the words?” Mr. Shields asks in a passage that is itself an unacknowledged reworking of remarks by the cyberpunk author William Gibson. “Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do — all of us — though not all of us know it yet. Reality cannot be copyrighted.”

Mr. Shields’s pasted-together book and defense of appropriation underscore the contentious issues of copyright, intellectual property and plagiarism that have become prominent in a world in which the Internet makes copying and recycling as simple as pressing a couple of buttons.

In which we discover that this post is a lead in to the one that follows it.

A novelist need no longer write, but can just take.


Balfegor said...

Has anyone who commented so far read the attached article from the NYT's?

I read it, but it didn't excite my interest, particularly. And it's not the conversation we're having here in any event.

Synova said...

"As Mr. Manjoo observes in “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society” (2008), the way in which “information now moves through society — on currents of loosely linked online groups and niche media outlets, pushed along by experts and journalists of dubious character and bolstered by documents that are no longer considered proof of reality” — has fostered deception and propaganda (...) “the very idea of objective reality is under attack.” (...)
THE WEB’S amplification of subjectivity... (...)
As for the textual analysis known as deconstruction, which became fashionable in American academia in the 1980s, it enshrined individual readers’ subjective responses to a text over the text itself,(...)

I just thought it interesting enough to point out that the support for the digital destruction of the notion of truth is being tied back to a pre-digital movement... which is supposed to prove that the internet did it to us.

rcocean said...

I just read (skimmed actually, its the NYT after all) and the Althouse posts/comments are much more interesting.

Not surprising. The NYT's prides itself on verbosity and dullness.

Synova said...

"To Mr. Lanier, however, the prevalence of mash-ups in today’s culture is a sign of “nostalgic malaise.” “Online culture,” he writes, “is dominated by trivial mash-ups of the culture that existed before the onset of mash-ups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.”"

I'm guessing Mr. Lanier is a Gen Xer... someone who thinks that something is new. The "culture that existed before the onset of mash-ups" the one feeding the remakes of Gilligan's Island, is the one that produced the number one song the week I was born... House of the Rising Sun by the Animals... which was a cover of the same song by Dylan... which was a cover of the same song by someone else... which was a discovered folk song made up by who knows who.

And just how long have people been remaking Shakespeare? Really!

But never mind that. What about fairy tales?

Synova said...

As for the vast meandering contemplation of one published work after another suggesting that the internet is going to break us down into ever smaller pieces...

I'm reminded of the classic film Zoolander when Owen Wilson's character takes out his teeny-tiny cell phone.

Also... a book length book to say nothing much more than "people's attention spans are too short to support anything longer than a tweet" is sort of... self disproving.

Ann Althouse said...

I think my post is clear that the article is about something else. I pulled the part that interested me and made me want to say something. I acknowledge that what I did is an example of what the rest of the article is fretting about. But I'm not fretting.

Penny said...

Synova, while your point is well taken that we often stand on the shoulders of those who went before when creating anything, I hope that wouldn't discount certain periods resulting in seismic shifts in our culture, and really, in how we come "to think and do" in that changed context. Think agriculture age vs industrial age vs the present internet age.

Penny said...

To those of you who say that you read this article and were not interested in it. OK, I can understand that. I often start reading things that I determine have no meaning to me, and so I move on, either after I finish, and oftentimes, much before I finish.

Even so, I must say that I am surprised that not one of you, readers of the article and non-readers of the article, have commented about why Althouse would do such a thing as purposely post a headline that totally misstates the gist of its content.

Should I assume that you don't care about that either?

Synova said...

I just think that it's a lot of fuss about nothing. I write slowly... the other day I wrote about 2000 words of fiction and I think they were mostly the right words and mostly in the right order. In any case I'm pretty immersed in the creative aspects of fiction. Not just the internet but the fiction market itself builds on itself even if a whole lot seems derivative. It's not stagnant, even if it's yet another paranormal romance... it moves.

The idea that we've lost the taste for fiction or anything with length or depth doesn't at all go with my own experience as a consumer of fiction either. There are not fewer novels published now, but vastly more, and they are longer than ever before.

Harry Potter was 7 volumes.

How many installments of Twilight?

On my "buy on payday" list I've got one mystery that might be part of a larger series, the first two books of a four volume YA thriller, and a three book series by Sarah Hoyt. ("Indiana Jones collides with Georgette Heyer." With dragons!)

Like anything, the audience likes to know what it's getting, so more of the same, sells. Readers also like to become immersed in the world and involved with the characters. Genre literature is dominated by series set in the same place with the same characters. Even romance.

Reading fiction requires time. For a whole lot of years I wasn't able to sit down with a book and read it through like I did in high school and college, so for a whole lot of years I didn't read anything new. I just reread novels I'd read before.

And movies are getting longer.

The article points out how the computer enables things like tweeting and enables people to find what they want to find quickly instead of slogging through tomes of information they aren't looking for... but I don't think any of it means what they think it means.

How long, for example, have the MMORPGers on Althouse been working on developing a single character?

Even our games span years.

For that matter, for how many years have we been having this conversation at Althouse blog?

Synova said...

"why Althouse would do such a thing as purposely post a headline that totally misstates the gist of its content."

Because it was a thought provoking quote by the unrepentant plagiarist David Shields?

Andrea said...

Wait, he's a plagiarist?

Jerk. Now I don't care what he thinks about anything.

Trooper York said...

I have not been reading much fiction these days. I prefer the short snippets of autobiography many people post on the internets such as Laura Bush's Diary.

bagoh20 said...

I'm drawn to nonfiction because wisdom is elusive enough without confusing my mind with cause and effects impossible in real life. Fiction is entertaining, but I fear mixing it up with fact and then arriving at false conclusions subconsciously informed by a story impossible in real life. Kind of like when you can't remember if something really happened or it was a dream you had. Mostly, I just don't have enough time for fiction, though I wish I did. There is just so much real stuff to learn and life is so short.

Jeremy said...

You're reading the wrong fiction.

Jeremy said...

* Anything by Bruen, Larsson, Mankell
* Crais
* Leonard
* Thompson
* Rand
* Silva
* Fossum
* Vachss
* Burke
* Hiassen

Henry said...

Carl Hiassen's Hoot is terrific -- one of the better of the books on CD we have used to get our kids through long car rides.

@Blue@9 -- Just to be clear, it's Michael who mentions reading the Iliad to his kids.

I've used many stories from the Odyssey as fodder for stories I make up for my kids, but that's a different story.

The Iliad is really horrific. When I recently read the translation by Robert Fagles, there were nights I had to put it down, mid-slaughter to pick up at a later time.

Jeremy said...

Henry, when you say "the kids," are they in the 25-60 range?

That would be Carl's demographic.

Henry said...

As for the actual article, I'm with Balfegor. Its typical art-essay thoughtfulness, a smorgasbord of worry. Reading it reminds me why I stopped listening to NPR.

Jeremy said...

How old are you people?

Based on the comments I'd put most of you in the 70-80 year old ballpark.

Good lord...some of you are so full of yourselves I'd be careful not to explode.

Jeremy said...

Henry: "Reading it reminds me why I stopped listening to NPR."

Oh, good heavens yes.

Those...NPR people.

Henry said...

Jeremy - Hoot is for younger readers. It won a Newbery. But it's just as good for adults, which is why it makes good audio material for long drives.

Henry said...

As for NPR -- Well, I read the newspaper. If a story is important I try to track down real background and analysis. The Internet is helpful. I'm just not interested in snippets of recycled thoughtfulness.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

Henry - "I'm just not interested in snippets of recycled thoughtfulness."

That's how you describe NPR?

I would venture to guess 80% of NPR's programming relates to original, not "recycled" information and reports and commentary focused on science, history, the environment, business, current events, trivia, language, etc., etc....and only 20% on the politics that drive the conservatives into a frenzy. And even there, they always offer both sides.

itzik basman said...

I am a former graduate student in English Literature and find myself these days seldom reading fiction or anything long outside of work--lawyer. But on a recent week's holiday I read The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard and then with trepidation Madame Bovary. It was fantastic, reminded me of the greatness of great, as in world class, literature; it put Leonard's novel completely away; and it reminded me as well how salutary it is at all times to have a magnificent novel on the go. But I haven't picked one up since I've been back.

Henry said...

Jeremy, you misunderstand me. I didn't say "recycled content" I said "recycled thoughtfulness." It's not the stories that are stale, but the sentiments. It's not the politics that are annoying, but the sentimentality.

Susan Stamberg by herself is enough to make anyone turn the dial. She does the art dreck.

And it's broadcast media. For all NPR efforts, everything is a snippet. The written form is still where a good reporter can unpack a story in detail. I credit the New York Times for that.

Youngblood said...

Late to the party on this one (unfortunately), but Shields' comment was about the shift from fiction to "reality-based art".

We've been here before. Between the end of the 19th century and the end of World War II, "reality media" was king. Freak shows. Travelogues. Vaudeville travelogues. (When L. Frank Baum himself decided to adapt The Wizard of Oz into another medium, it was as a vaudeville travel presentation, not a fictional film.)

The first modern tabloids appeared in the Teens and Twenties, focusing on true crime and the lives of celebrities -- the New York Daily News, the New York Evening Graphic, and the New York Enquirer (which has, in the years since, gone national!).

Reality television was prefigured by reality magazines in the 1920's -- Bernarr Macfadden's True Story, True Crime, and True Romance, as well as their legions of imitators -- first-person narratives, often confessional, telling stories about people.

Time was founded with a similar goal in mind -- relay the news of the day through the medium of people (and in its early days, Time was derided for this approach). Time bought the rights to the name Life and founded a magazine for you-are-there style photojournalism.

Mash-up art? It existed in that time period, too. Collage and photomontages became valid art forms in the first quarter of the 20th century. Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism were informed by the same aesthetics and philosophies.

Motion picture photography allowed the cutting and splicing of frames to create different effects -- long shots cut abruptly to close ups to medium shots. Nearly all early experiments in film involved the "mash-up" philosophy.

Hell, the Photoshop controversies of the early 21st century were prefigured by pasted-up "composographs" and tricky double exposures.

It's possible to write a book on this subject, so I'll stop here. I'll only point out that we've been here before, and more than once. History isn't linear, it's cyclical. We have been here before and we have been where we're heading before, too.

Synova said...

Sorry you were late to the party, Youngblood. That was really cool.

Youngblood said...

Thanks, Synova!

I'm not the only one out there suggesting that our modern era is an echo of earlier eras.

If you find the idea of a cyclical approach to history interesting, I highly advise The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. While I think that they get a lot of things wrong, the things they get right have some really interesting implications for what's in our immediate future.