I have been revisiting my library lately. Not the local city library, no, no. My personal Library. I’ve let it slide the last few years, listlessly adding a book here or there, but never really paying attention to the garbage I was shelving. There is, it turns out, a great deal of literary yuck adorning my shelves. I have read some really awful stuff. In the wake of the death of one of the last of a great generation of American writers, it’s time to take a hard look at the literati of my generation.
Writers at the end of WWI and WWII took their words seriously. From those serious words we understood the nature of war, hate , destruction and lies. We as readers learned about the complexity and underlying sorrow of love. The horror of fear and it’s effects on those in the vicinity of one suffering it.
Those writing from the eighties onward have rarely offered a glimpse of anything that hasn’t already been imagined. American writers have spent the last thirty years or so whining. Occasionally we come across a rare find of introspection but really there is very little to recommend. I think it’s because we have stopped taking anything seriously. Writers now are less inclined to discuss their words and more inclined to tell you how their book tour went. They are no longer discussing technique and more often talking about money or how the publisher screwed them. They talk in a grandiose fashion about their ‘inspirations’ but refuse or are unable to discuss the mechanics of writing. It’s become an embarrassment of greed and self aggrandizement.
What gets published is often un-readable. Or readable, but the words leave the reader nothing to hold. Most contemporary American books I have forgotten almost as soon as I put the book down. Unforgivable really. The author has just wasted my time. They’ve left me nothing to think about. Nothing to ponder or consider. I’ve been fed 75,000 words of subtraction stew. And yes, I could have put the book down and walked away. The sad fact is I never put the book down. It’s rude to the characters, even if they are badly drawn.
Where did our writers go? Where did those with insight and curiosity get off to? My generation spawned American Psycho and Bright Lights, Big City, both acceptable books but not deep books. They may inspire a thin sort of horror but they don’t make us think beyond the moment. Like Faulkner, like Fitzgerald, Like Vonnegut or Salinger. I suspect those days of deep insight and its communication are gone. We no longer hold the writer in awe because the current American writer is unable to talk about anything outside themselves in depth.
It’s just sad.