Thursday, October 16, 2008

Touchy subject

What not to read:

I read great books all the time and am always astonished by how many people do not. Having spoken to people in Barnes and Noble (and believe me I am glad people even still BUY books-- let alone read them!) all the time about their favorite authors or what they consider a great book, I am really astonished to see so many of them reading...-- well, I'll just put it right out there-- they read crap. One popular author is Jodi Picoult. Women often ask me about her books- some for book clubs, others simply because she is soup de jour and they want something new. Her stories may grab readers the way a train wreck or an accident on the highway slows rush hour, but the poetry of language and the just-dropped-me-off-on-the-moon feel are absent. She is not the worst of the lot-- try some of the chick lit that is so insanely popular (and I would classify the Twilight series in this category) and you'll wonder. At least I hope you will.

There was a time when it was difficult for women to get published and the most they could hope to write was little more than romance smut. Today, women have the opportunity and are among the majority of writers, but seemingly not the will to write anything more challenging than a self-imposed pablum. One might guess as to why this is... The meat and potatoes of bookstores is the self-improvement section. Reading is on the decline and what is read seems to be escapist material. Best selling authors are rare and making money in the book industry is nearly impossible. If you want to sell books you have to pander to the collective taste it seems.

But perhaps this says more about the reader than the writer. For with the decline of great fiction comes a decline in our collective ability to recognize art from craft, symphony from band, pirouette from spin. If we continue to tell ourselves we need the mental escapism that popular fiction offers, we will soon find that we are unable to enjoy the poetry of the word, the music of the tallest of tales, the word beyond time. When you are at the bookstore next, pick up Jeanette Winterson's 'Written on the Body' (if you can find it!) or take a glimpse into Rikki Ducornet's new book 'The One Marvelous Thing.' Robert Chatain of the Chicago Tribune says of Ducornet, "[she] writes like a stunned time-traveler, testifying in breathless fragments to exotic ages that have gone or never were. . . . It's startling and refreshing to encounter a writer whose work insists so relentlessly upon the magic of making tales."

Today I will leave you with a taste of 'The Leper's Companions' by Julia Blackburn,
"The old fisherman stopped mending his nets. His hands were stiff and painful and he laid them side by side on his lap, the fingers bunched together like the feet of dead birds...
... [and] as long as he kept singing he was cocooned in images: he was out at sea among the rolling waves of a storm, the backs of whales and silver fishes breaking through the surface of the water all around him. A catch of living things was thrashing at his feet in the boat, struggling for breath. But then as soon as his voice was silent, he was only here, frail in the sunshine..."


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