The Landscape of Literature: A Comment
Ah, another comment that was just too long to be posted on the actual website, so I’m posting it here. This is a comment in response to this article about John Green and the YA-internet revolution that he has helped in part to herald in to the literary world.
Firstly, I’ve started to recognize that YA as a genre is silly, not the books themselves to clarify. I do not have a rage against it, or a grievance against it (well, somewhat of a grievance), rather I just don’t feel like it should be a genre that we distinguish certain books by. Something that I have found about YA is that, while many of them have great stories or plots, they are written in a lackluster fashion that is almost lazy in many cases, and often times you will see the same stylistic setting turned on for most every YA book. Despite my passionate love for The Hunger Games, it would be wrong of me to say that it was written brilliantly, when in fact it was actually simplistic writing done well. A lot of YA books have fallen into this mantra of writing simplistically, and often times it works, but just as often, it leaves us with a book that will fade into the folds of time before many of us have grown too old.
One of the reasons for this is simply because publishers have started a new revolution for themselves in that, they no longer look for the best quality of writing, rather they look at the quantity that can be sold of that writing. One such example of this is the latest dystopian ‘epic’ the Divergent Trilogy by the aforementioned Veronica Roth. I have read all of Roth’s books up this point, and after the phenomenal flop that was Allegiant, I realized just how badly the series actually was. I also recently read her Four which was no better, and did very little to set apart Tobias from Tris, or even enhance his character: it could have been a redeeming, Joycean tale similar to Dubliners, in that we can truly see and feel Tobias’s maturity grow, instead it was a very stagnant and almost underwhelming little book, and I am glad that it will be the final story for the Divergent World (at least for now, as many YA writers have always noted when they finish a series, “I’m not completely shutting the door,” which is great, but is sounds much more like a thing that tells publishers, “I’m willing to write more for bigger royalties.”
Not all writers are like this, but one that sticks out prominently is Cassandra Cla(i)re, who originally intended for her Mortal Instruments series to be a trilogy, but for whatever reason decided to attach another trilogy (that was hastily, lazily, and poorly written) for absolutely no reason. Her original intentions- which would have proved more fruitful and much better than her second thoughts- were to have written a manga (I believe) series centering around Simon’s days as a vampire. The sequel trilogy, while focusing much more on Simon, ended up becoming an excuse for Clare to both earn more profits, flaunt her disastrous writing abilities, and also just show how easily it is to become successful even when your work is not up to par with your sales. I do not mean for this to be an attack on Clare herself, but when such things are so obvious, it’s hard not to point them out. For a time, I have seen Clare’s work as a television show akin to Supernatural, Buffy, or any other cable network phenom. Now, the network gave Clare a pilot season just to see how it could catch on to the audience, and they liked it, so they gave her 2 more seasons. They said that’ll be all they wanted, and Clare agreed. But, when the network started to see amazing ratings for the show, they started to take Clare to the side and say, “We want more of this: a lot more of this,” and they opened a briefcase full of brilliant, shimmering cash out to her and she took it an ran. And so became the Shadowhunter World that she has created which is very much a conglomeration of many more popular supernatural books, shows, and movies (this is most obvious in City of Heavenly Fire, in which she channels J.K. Rowling multiple times, and not even in homage, but rather in concealed plagiarism. Take for instance the scene in which Clary and Jace go into the sword shop in Alicante, and Clary is basically told, “The sword chose you,” I could not help but laugh at this scene, for I was prepared to read, “The wielder does not choose the sword, the sword chooses the wielder,”. There is a distinct difference between being inspired by a writer and basically taking their scenes from their books and transforming them into your own. It’s wrong)
To move on, the landscape of literature has changed so drastically at the turn of the century, I’m almost beginning to believe that a writer no longer has to put in effort to write decent fiction that will in fact stand a great deal of time (To Kill A Mockingbird comes to mind, as it is the perfect example of a book that in today’s times, would be considered Middle Grade-YA simply because the main character happens to be a child, yet the book is written incredibly brilliantly with elements of both fantasy and startling realism that are so compelling that it is no wonder it is commonly considered one of the finest written books of the last century), rather it will come down to a) how many copies can you sell b) did your book get turned into a movie franchise yet c) what is your online presence, and d) do you plan on writing companions, sequels, prequels, and selling massive tons of merchandise? The literary world has always been a very competitive business, but the always shifting landscape of the 21st Century is one that is the most dangerous to try and cross. Every other day, you’re hearing about a new YA adaptation or this YA becoming the next Hunger Games, Twilight, or now The Fault in Our Stars. There was even humorous speculation that the next generation would be about cancer around every corner (quite possibly cancer patients fighting a battle to the death, while a war between vampire rages and one of the cancer patients happens to be a vampire as well; or some other strange and marketable plot line).
The revolution of Self-Publishing has help to aid this transformation literature: Hugh Howely became one of the biggest authors in self-publishing because of his Wool series, and has sense been taken up by a publisher who shares the massive royalties that he receives for his books. With this kind of business, writers are having become more creative in their approach as to how they will get their book read. For a long time, it had been my dream to write books and simply share them with people, but as I grew older and matured, I realized that it is not that simple. The colors black and white, sides good and evil, and shades of light and dark are much more ambiguous than they appear. In these days when anyone can be published- even my previous 12 year old self- no matter the content or the literary merit of their writing, the competition in the market grows. We all know that some competition is healthy, but too much of it can be lethal.
Like the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die: many of us have died, some of us have been playing for a very long time, and very few of us have won. There are multifaceted characters (the writers, publishers, agents, readers, even the damn dog) who will do anything to win in this game- to ascend to a throne that may well not be rightfully theirs- and sometimes even those who win still my brandish their sword and armies in order to make sure that no one takes their throne. The slow genocide of the old writer dies as the new emerges from the bloodshed of such a battle, we begin to see the end of the generational writer (J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, Lee, arguably Martin, King, and others) and the birth of writers such as those YA writers who simply write for the moment and not for the time.
But still, one cannot be totally sure how the future will look, for as Daenerys Targareyen said in A Game of Thrones, “When I look back, I am lost.” When I look to the past, it is unfathomable to me how some books have succeeded while others have failed, and as I look forward even, I cannot be sure which birds will fly and which will be shot down out of the sky. Harry Potter has survived for some years now, but it is a recent ending and the writer has mostly since moved on from it (aside from her few teases she has made). Our generation is one of social media, technology, and innovation. Every other month it’s the new iPhone, the new laptop, the new show, the new, the new, the new whatever. One of the things that I have learned about people, humans in general, is that we all share a common goal: we would all like to be remembered beyond our deaths.
Many of us have done nothing exciting in our lives, or we have steadily done something that has bore no fruit, but we still dream of doing something worth remembering. Any man who is satisfied with his life being forgotten shortly after the end of it is no man at all. Many of us are willing to do the extreme to be remembered: a man will rob a bank and get away with it for as long as he can before the cops finally find him just so that he can have some life after his death; Eric and Dylan dreamed of a Spielberg film of their massacre; many of my very own characters have dreams of marching on Washington or being the peacemaker, even if it means doing ‘evil’. This is how our world works, and as for literature, it seems that it follows. Literature, for a long time, was divided between the book and its author (the author themselves have to learn to take criticism for their work and not themselves for they were completely different entities), but these days, more and more, writers must be engaged with the social world their work has become apart of as they are in creating the worlds within those books. If this chapter in literature is marked down, as it likely will be, John Green will be written there in those words, but possibly not ultimately for his work, but in fact for his following. George R.R. Martin would have been remembered with and without his show, but one cannot ignore the fact that his immortality was propelled, ensured even, by the HBO show.
My final toll is that, the future will hold what the future shall hold. The slow procession of writers and readers will merge, as I see it, and this may not be a bad thing for it interconnects us more than ever, but what will come of it in the literature itself cannot be foreseen. Will this generations To Kill A Mockingbird, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and other works be that of YA literature, due not totally in part because of their writing, but simply because of their writing? As always said, only time will tell us.