I tried to find a photo of George Eliot mud wrestling a "Young Adult" and failed. That would have summed up this whole post, but instead you'll have to settle for this long ramble.
I've been having mixed feelings lately about what modern literature is doing to my brain. Or perhaps I should say commercial fiction to be more precise.
I read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like millions of others I was sucked in after the first few chapters. The premise was brilliant, the pacing fast, the love triangle compelling, the writing simple enough to absorb the minute it hit the bloodstream. Books like this are like crack with a powerful, immediate hit. You don't have to work for them. You don't have to slowly wade into them, letting the world gradually soak into you, gaining a deeper appreciation. There is no deeper appreciation. They are what they are - immediate and engrossing.
By contrast, a novel like Middlemarch by George Eliot is not immediate and engrossing. It is slow and unfolding, but full of depths waiting to be plumbed. It is not lean and tight with one main character and story line. It is sprawling with many characters whose stories seem disconnected until only later you see how they are. It is not quick to read. The sentences are dense and rich and poetic and layered. There are no bloody duels, no heart-pounding life-on-the-line scenes, just the slow passage of time, peering into those quirky souls we call human.
I am not arguing one book is better than another. I just wonder if I develop a taste for power-punching fare like Hunger Games, will I lose my ability to be slowly lured into a story? I find myself wanting the immediate connection. What's the hook? What's the payoff? And I can't help but wonder if this is happening to us all. I'm probably way behind the times. Because hello! It's already been happening.
I tend to think this phenomenon springs from movies and television. Due to commercial pressures and homogenization, movies and television have a strict format. They must be compelling in a tight time slot, which means no word, characterization, prop or action can be wasted. I enjoy this at times, having fun watching a tv mystery (Castle is my current favorite), knowing that almost every word has relevance to what will unfold in the episode. I like to look for tells and predict what will happen and I'm pretty darn good at it. But is all of this training our brains to only consume information in a limited format? Is our brain circuitry being rewired to the lowest common denominator?
I have no argument against Hunger Games or their ilk. In fact, I argue a reader should read as enjoyment leads them. I'd like to think that both forms of storytelling will survive and flourish. I only hope that we don't lose the richness of the novel to the leanness of modern attention spans.
This affects me as a writer, because let's face it, books like Hunger Games are gold. I'm hardly against the Hunger Games. I deeply admire Suzanne Collins for what she's accomplished. If I could write a book like it tomorrow I would, trust me. It's something people want - clever, colorful, imaginative fantasy that is also quick, addictive and not too darned much work to read. As a writer you think, if only I could tap this magical formula, I could write something more addictive than Reese's peanut butter cups. And then you focus on making something tight, lean, spare, easy to read, and bloody compelling. Nothing wrong with all that. Except is it formulaic? Is it limiting? I think the real question as a writer though, is: Is that where you want to go? Is that what you want to do? Is that your style?
But beyond these authorly questions that come up, I think about the larger implications and wonder if our ADD world will be missing something. Is the push to capture people's attention in 8 bloody seconds and hold it by sheer force conducive to art? Does it leave out all the beautiful subtleties and mysteries of life? Will it leave us an impatient lot, unable to process anything that does not fall into our established expectations of immediate gratification?
Thoughts? What kind of book would you take on a deserted island?
p.s. If you love to talk books, come be my friend on Goodreads!
p.s.s If there was a fourth Hunger Games book I would of course buy it tomorrow, ha!