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Where have all the good books gone?

As a book lover, I become a little disheartened each time I walk into a bookstore. It’s not that I’ve grown tired of reading, or tired of the written word in general. I’m simply tired of anything post-1990s. A large statement, but I will stand by it.

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By Leanna Pankratz (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 1, 2012

As a book lover, I become a little disheartened each time I walk into a bookstore. It’s not that I’ve grown tired of reading, or tired of the written word in general. I’m simply tired of anything post-1990s. A large statement, but I will stand by it.

I’ve tried, I really have. I cracked open Twilight a few years back only to be turned off of the vampire scene altogether. I’ve given most of Oprah’s favourite books the benefit of the doubt only to be left with doubt, and Elizabeth Gilbert certainly didn’t inspire me to eat, pray, or love. In fact, with the exception of a few standout novels (and at the risk of sounding like a prematurely stodgy book-snob), I have been thoroughly disappointed by the calibre of modern literature. What was that biblical quote from Ecclesiastes? “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Unfortunately, I haven’t immersed myself in the works of modern-day authors simply because I’ve been disappointed by their work. I much prefer Oscar Wilde’s accounts of decadence and depravity to Gossip Girl’s, or the fast paced antics of Hunter S. Thompson’s Rum Diary to the cocky nonsense of that depressing misogynist behind I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. We’re a culture that thrives on recycled ideas, and I choose to stay safely in the somewhat antiquated language of our all-the-more-fascinating (literary) past – and therefore read plotlines that were at least semi-new when they were written.

It’s a sad but true fact that there is nothing new in literature. It’s rare that a popular and well-written novel’s author is not glaringly compared to such literary greats as Hemingway and Salinger. Can a writer not be great in their own right? Apparently not. It seems that the highest compliment paid to a young writer is generally not one involving a “fresh and original voice,” but a “fresh and original spin on the style of [insert famous and revered twentieth century heavyweight].” I’ve grown to hate the infernal presence of literary name-dropping on any book review I read. Is it at all possible for lush, melancholic prose to not be “reminiscent of Capote?” There were authors who genuinely earned their right to book-word fame and recognition, and I hate to see their names being sprayed around the pages of reviews like adjectives.

What happened to the days of innovation and the act of a writer bringing an innovating new method of writing or format to the table? It seems almost impossible to spin the threads of new ideas in our society – our jaded society that thrives on the notion of “been there done that.” How does a writer market to such a generation? Want to write about money, aspiration, and disappointment in deeply descriptive language? Scott Fitzgerald claimed that one. Want to eliminate description and cut down language to its barest bones? Sorry, Hemingway called it. How about a detailed, cross sectional look at modern day class structures? Charles Dickens took that one running. What about Edwardian gender-bending? Chalk that one up to Virginia Woolf. Dizzyingly spiritual stream-of-consciousness ramblings and verbal nonsense? James Joyce beat you to it. What we have these days are the regurgitated and possibly subconsciously semi-plagiarized ideas of these great men and women with a few pop-culture references and modernized language. I’ll stick with my vintage copy of Tender is the Night, thank you very much.

If you’re jaded and you know it, clap your hands.

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