Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hype and Confidence

I read the latest super-hyped book yesterday (lost a day of writing to do it) and when I put the book done (or more appropriately, put my ipad down and hit the little white button to get out of the Kindle app), I was left with a sense of, "huh?" 

Years ago, when I was reading through the classics (something I started at 11 years old, knowing I wanted to be a writer and continuing through my BA and MA degrees in English), I would walk away stunned. Absolutely stunned. How on earth could I be a writer NOW?, I would moan.  How could I ever match the level of amazing that I just soaked in?  If this is what is required to be a writer, I will never match up.  Afterwards, I would try to replicate some of that grandiose story, some of that amazing dialogue, some of that memorable flair. I would always, in my own opinion, find myself falling short and decide that maybe I should just write poetry instead or take up a career in journalism where it was all facts and no flair.  Eventually, I would return to my own short stories (the first of which was told to a tape recorder when I was three, the next set typed up by my own little seven year old hands on my mom's old typewriter from high school). But, I would never feel confident that I was anything better than mediocre.

Fast forward the years and I find myself hearing about the latest "hot" book on TV.  (Remember when we never heard about books on TV? Well, this IS a plus to hear so now.)  Some co-workers of mine chimed in on the hype (they are mentally casting the movie as I write it), so I decided to download a copy and read this wonder for myself.  I finished quickly as little thought was required - it wasn't a mystery or anything to mull over deeply.  Then I sat back and thought, "why the hype? This is (no thyme intended) tripe."  And no, I will not write the title or author here.

So I'm left to wonder, is this to which the literary world has descended?  I mean, of course there are rare gems worthy of the hype (thank you, JK Rowling) but for the most part, is this how publishing has stayed alive and not shut its doors in the media age?  By publishing to the lowest common denominator?  I don't just mean that I didn't care for the plot (I didn't), the language (I didn't), but how one-dimensional the characters were, how much the author needed a thesaurus, the cliffhanger that went nowhere (unless you buy the sequel, I'm assuming), the vapid heroine and her poorly thought out decisions.

Therefore, as a writer as well as a reader, where does this leave me? Does a background in the classics make me the old fuddy-duddy on the block? Or do I have to strive lesser and lesser each year to write well as long as I find a way to shock?  Are mainstream writers now destined to be the shock-jocks of the literary world just to sell a novel?  If so, where do I go from here?