Yesterday I told you I thought writing and publishing had gone downhill.
I am not the only one who has noticed.
Margaret Drabble, my favorite writer, told The Telegraph last October that her new novel was unlikely to be published by Penguin, her publisher.
“I have had a weird feeling that I’m being dumbed down by my publishers and it’s interesting there’s an agenda of how it should be in the marketplace.”
She is one of the best writers of the 20th (and 21st) century, and if publishers are treating her with little respect, I can only imagine how they treat new writers. I hope Penguin publishes an intelligent edition of her novel, or that she finds a new publisher.
The critic Harold Bloom has long written about the “dumbing-down” trend, and in 2003, when the National Book Foundation gave a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award to Stephen King, he wrote a long op/ed piece for the Boston Globe.
The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.
We all know Stephen King is a good guy. He has given millions (more?) to charities. But is he a literary writer? No.
There has been a post-post-post-post-modern breakdown that tells intelligent readers to pretend popular and literary novels are the same–and they are not. The National Book Foundation has continued its dumbing-down trend in the Distinguished Contributions arena: last year they gave the award to mystery writer Elmore Leonard.
I read and like genre fiction, but I hate to see the National Book Foundation’s determination to attract attention (Hello! We’re a Celeb Prize!) cheat literary writers.
Censorship has always been a problem in the U.S., and in 2011, a new low was reached by a publisher who wanted, yes, to censor and “dumb down” 19th-century literature. New South Books censored an edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, removing the word “nigger” from the text-a word used in the 19th-century dialect by Huck, which obviously he obviously rises above in his friendship with the escaped slave, Jim.
The writer David Matthews wrote for The New York Times:
Removing that single word from the text, while sparing those too sensitive to get past it, relieves the reader of doing any heavy lifting. Great books — or any work of art — require that the reader meet the author half-way. Huck Finn is a serious literary work. It is not a children’s adventure book, nor a Rockwellian portrait. As intended, it is a scathing indictment against slavery, hypocrisy, gender roles (sure, why not), and class.
What a century!
After rejecting many highly-touted novels, I am desperate to find a good new book.
Here is the challenge.
Find me a brilliant new novel.
It has to have been published in the 21st century.
It could have been reviewed in national book review publications, or even be one of the Best of the Month at Amazon, but if it is not, so much the better.
It can be in English or in translation.
Recommend something. Please leave a comment or I will know nothing is good!