“I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.”
Not that anyone particularly follows my professional career, but I (in my own opinion and the opinions of those who have read my books) have become an accomplished (or, at the very least, competent) novelist. I wrote my first novel — Political Science 101 — while in prison. Well, I wrote about 80% of it in prison; I finished it when I got home.
Writing in prison was my way of coping with being away from the people I love. Writing that book transported me to a whole other world — the fictional world about which I was writing — so it provided a wonderful refuge from the environment to which I was confined. I wrote it while contemporaneously reading exhaustively, reading a collection of all the novels I’d wanted to read (or should have read) when I was younger. So as I was writing Political Science 101, I was also reading fiction and nonfiction books such as Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Catch-22, The Interestings, Killing Yourself to Live, Mother Night, Fight Club, Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, Prozac Nation, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, just to name a few.
Many of those are some of the best works of literature ever written; they are books that not only tell an amazing saga, but also convey an underlying message about subjects such as society, humanity, friendship, love, hate, triumph, and failure. And it was this continuing sense of carrying a greater theme that drove me to write Political Science 101 the way I did. I wrote it as a political drama/thriller, but I also wrote it with numerous underlying themes and messages: friendship, betrayal, self-loathing, perseverance, etc.
In my newly-completed second novel, a serial killer novel called Behavioral Science 101, I again present and explore an underlying theme beyond the mere plotlines and details: What is the true meaning of evil? Who are the true villains in this world?
I believe that every piece of quality literature should not merely tell a story, but also give the reader self-analytical open-ended question to pose to him/herself upon completion…
- Orwell did this exceptionally well with 1984 and Animal Farm, posing questions about contemporary society and the power citizens give to their governments.
- Vonnegut did this in Mother Night by saying, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be;” thus asking the reader, “Who do you pretend to be?”
- Salinger talks about how the process of growing up makes people phony and disingenuous through the narrative of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.
- In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey challenges the reader to ponder the genuine definition of sanity and insanity by creating a microcosm of society within the walls of a mental institution.
- Fahrenheit 451 tackles the issues of censorship and the dumbing-down of contemporary society, which is increasingly demeaning to those with educations; Conservatism believes American universities are “brainwashing” students with their “liberal agenda,” for example.
These novels aren’t just stories. They are literature. They instill a message beyond the mere facts of the storylines. This is what literature is all about; this is what contemporary fiction lacks. Literature in contemporary society is dead. With perhaps a select-few notable exceptions, contemporary novels are not literature, they’re just stories.
SIDE NOTE: Not all contemporary literature is shit. There are still a few solid brilliant contemporary authors who write great books with deeper themes and messages vital to society. But for every Chuck Palahniuk, there are 100 James Pattersons. Actually, no, there’s only one James Patterson, and he’s a fraud. James Patterson takes other people’s novels, puts his name on them, puts the real author’s name in small print at the bottom or on the side or something as a “co-author,” then sells it under his famous “brand.” James Patterson does not write his own books anymore, he simply puts his name on other people’s work. Don’t believe me? Scroll through THIS Amazon search. Look at all the “and” or “&” names written in tiny print. Those are the people who actually wrote the book, not James Patterson.
But anyway, here’s the overall problem: Simple stories sell books, complex literature does not. The publishing industry doesn’t give a damn about the literary quality of a novel anymore (if they ever did); they only care about what sells. And dumbed-down novels about nothing more than the words on a page — that is what sells. The condition of the contemporary novel is: Dead.
Contemporary literature is dead.
Want proof? How about the Fifty Shades series? Those books are absolute shit. Even the quality of writing is so bad, it’s laughable to anyone with half an education in literary theory.
“His pointer finger circled my puckered love cave. ‘Are you ready for this?’ he mewled, smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her three-legged young.”
That shit got published!
And that is horrible writing!
That quote is a prime example of the pathetic state of contemporary “literature.”
First of all (and I can’t stress this enough), books like this — Romance / Erotica — are not literature! Erotica isn’t real literature, just like pornography isn’t real cinema. Women who read these books are the female equivalent of men who are addicted to pornography. It’s simply a way for someone to fantasize about a sexual experience with someone who is not their spouse. And I guess if that’s your thing, then so be it; but that shit still isn’t literature.
Popular fiction (“Pop Fiction”) is at least tolerable. Contemporary novelists like Dan Brown, Tom Clancey, John Grisham, and David Baldacci have the ability to tell great stories. Additionally, Grisham has been known to broach several delicate topics with his plots (racism in A Time to Kill or political corruption in The Pelican Brief) but the underlying literary messages aren’t underlying at all.
Contemporary American entertainment has been dumbed-down to the point that people are rarely able to interpret deeper themes and messages within the context of literature; marketable literature must now be limited to what can be comprehended within the limited timeframe of the average bowel movement. We have reached a point in society when advanced education is no longer praised, but rather belittled as a disconnection from normality. Modern nomenclature has synonymized “normal” with “simple.” Simplicity and normality (in the context of a person’s cognitive state-of-being) used to be separate concepts.
Cognitive dissonance has become the status quo. People think anyone smarter than them is “brainwashed.” People think anyone with a different opinion is “stupid” and “wrong.” We live in a society when people can literally choose their facts. People don’t think anymore. People listen to the talking heads who share their philosophies and merely believe what they are told to believe.
The days of people reading books and formulating their own opinions are gone.
Literature is dead.
But you know what? I’m going to keep writing my novels as literature anyway. I don’t write books to make money or tell cool stories; I write books to actually say something.