Does Literature Need a Facelift?

Culture July 3, 2017 By Hugo

I have long thought of literature as the rawest, most visceral form of artistic expression. For years I have admired the words that literature has passed down to me over the years. These are words that have bled from an author's imagination, an exposing container of thoughts most of us wouldn't dare share with anyone. But the best authors can do this to us and stir up emotions we never thought possible, and in recent weeks that's got me thinking about the role (if any) literature now plays in modern-day society.

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Firstly, it doesn't take a Harvard sociologist to work out that today's cultural zeitgeist is dominated by the Justin Biebers and Harry Styles of this world (or whoever won the latest edition of Dancing with the Stars) but I don't think reading is a relegated pastime many people have said it is, and if you read a recent article we wrote about the rise of Young Adult fiction, you'll realise that teenage girls, in particular, are buying more books than ever before, so why are there are so few authors achieving A-list status?

"A-list stars you say? This is literature, not Hollywood! "many literary aficionados will no doubt exclaim, which is fair enough until you realise that the majority of books you see on today's bookshelves are being picked up by middle-class parents, the occasional Nicholas Sparks fan, a born-again Christian and a host of academics looking for their debut novel.

It's a cynical view, but in my opinion, it's also a fair representation of how literature is going, and if it weren't for Amazon and the rise of the quick-to-read Kindle story, literature would be in serious trouble, which brings me the main point of this article: Literature needs to bring itself into the 21st century.

It sounds silly when you realise that reading is still largely synonymous with annoying Jane Austin novels and the acerbic teachers who jammed them down our throats, but though teenage boys seem to lose interest in the written word, girls appear to remain interested so if the demand is there, why are we not seeing any authors on the red carpets or gracing the front covers of magazines?

In the 30s and 40s, before Hollywood had officially become the cultural home of the demigods and goddesses, writers like Ernest Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald were considered some of the most famous artists alive, while William Shakespeare no doubt had his fair share of fangirls, though quite whether they demanded he sign their breasts isn't known...

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Anyway, literature could do with hiring a strong team of PR people and putting their authors out of the reach of irrelevant literary agents and into the hands of the big Hollywood agencies like CAA and William Morris. If anything, they'd start fostering the talent of younger, more commercially viable authors.

Sure you have teen favourite authors like John Green (The Fault in our Stars) and Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) writing weepy melodramas and achieving high levels of fame as a result, while horror and fantasy writers such as Stephen King, George. R.R. Martin and the one and only J.K. Rowling won't be leaving the Forbes Celebrity 100 Rich list anytime soon. But they're a handful among hundreds of thousands of authors, and if more young writers were championed, books might even return to the cultural lexicon of millennials.

If Brooklyn Beckham can grace the cover of GQ, why can't an up-and-coming writer?

It's a discussion that can be drawn out for days, and the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction is a big one. But regarding the latter, books often criticised for being 'poorly written' can sometimes sell more copies than a Taylor Swift album, and that's achieved with many of the authors having little-to-no public profile. 

So listen up book world: While it can be easy for the likes of Rushdie, Franzen and other eyebrow authors to turn their noses up at Hollywood, promoting an author the way an agent would an actor or musician could help foster a greater engagement in books-especially among young people. But until that happens, books will often be associated with dusty library shelves and austere school halls.

It's a shame, but it's also the reality. 


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