Why do I complain so much about contemporary literature?
Personally, I’m not likely to run into any sort of shortage of used books to read — as anyone who has been in a thrift store can attest to — so the hottest new releases don’t have any affect on me no matter how badly they are written. If I were to speak truthfully from the coldest place in my heart, I think it would be a relief if publishing houses died wholesale. Good riddance.
Contemporary literature is all about making money. Idealistically, we want to believe that ‘high quality = more profit’, but the popularity of the YouTube channel ‘5 Minute Crafts’ is undeniable proof that sentiment just isn’t true. Profit comes from tickling algorithms coupled with click-bait, and corporations have turned it into a science.
The thing is, ‘5 Minute Crafts’ and its ilk aren’t harmlessly mediocre underneath all the hype. I’ve seen videos promoting burning your hair with a candle, soaking strawberries in bleach, and other such activities that have no business in a DIY context, and should never be tried at home. Seriously, burning your hair is not a fast way to get rid of split ends, it is a stinky way to get rid of your hair. People are prophesying that these channels will one day kill YouTube.
Let’s bring the topic back to books: publishing houses, and by extension writers, are excessively geared towards money. The algorithms utilize formulaic stories that just so happen to hit all the right trending key words, and the shiny covers function as the click bait. Whether or not the story is actually well written and engaging is never the question.
You see, it doesn’t matter how much teachers extol the virtues of reading, no one is going to bother if the experience is a tedious one. Every time I hear someone say that they hate reading, I sympathize with the statement, “Most books suck.”
I say that as a writer.
The last I heard, fiction sales have been steadily dropping for some time now, and I don’t believe that the popularity of video streaming or video games has anything to do with it — movies have existed for quite some time, and the adage has always been, “the book is better” up until now. I believe that fiction is dying because no one gives a shit if the reader has an enjoyable experience or not, so long as they can collect on the royalties.
Statistically I also contribute to “the death of the novel”, because I haven’t purchased anything new in the last ten years, even though I still read books. I’m not voracious by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m usually working my way through something. I’m sure there are others who read plenty of fiction, but who also prefer used books, or websites that provide content for free. Humans have loved storytelling since the dawn of time, and that isn’t going to change.
I complain about contemporary literature because, as a writer, I often feel like I’ve dedicated my life to a field that is gaining an increasingly bad rap through blatant mismanagement. It doesn’t matter how much love and attention I put into producing quality works if people have been taught through experience to hate reading in the first place.
Since I’m not delusional enough to believe that my solitary rumblings are going to have any sort of effect on the world, I often wonder what other sort of venues are there for connecting with readers. How can I publish novels without resorting to books? How can I stand apart from contemporary literature?