Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Are the Books?

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where we're always south and east of the snowstorms! Here's some free advice: If you like snow, don't move close to the ocean anywhere south of Boston.

The nineteenth and early twentieth century brought us numerous novels that sought to change society. People like Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, and Harriet Beecher Stowe used stories of fictitious characters to engender sympathy from a wide reading audience. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin is widely credited for its introduction to the horrors of slavery among sectors of American society that had been unaware of the institutionalized brutality. Dickens advocated a more charitable social system and more humane treatment of the poor. Upton Sinclair revealed horrific working conditions in America's factories.

During the Great Depression, John Steinbeck penned The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that hides its communist message about as well as you could hide a cow on a subway.

Where are the books and the movies today that address what's happening in our modern world? We're sliding back toward a Victorian-era "only the strong survive" mentality, and no author has arisen to challenge it.

This sad state of affairs may be the fault of writers, or, more probably, it is the fault of the publishing industry -- a cluster of conglomerates for whom the current social climate is just a-okay.

Please don't write to me and say, "Anne, why don't you be the one?" Readers, I've tried and tried to get my fiction looked at by agents. I've got a folder full of one-paragraph rejection letters. An editor once took me out to dinner to "discuss" my novel, but after that I never heard from her again. She was portly in the extreme, and my guess is that she wanted to expense a big dinner.

What we need is for a best-selling author to address these issues. Call me sour grapes if you like, but Nora Roberts is a dreadful writer who churns out basically the same book over and over again. Is she so cocooned in luxury that she wouldn't consider penning something like Oliver Twist? Remember, Charles Dickens was no literary genius, and Harriet Beecher Stowe had never written a novel before Uncle Tom's Cabin.

We need more people like Michael Moore, especially in the world of print. We need that righteous indignation, those snapshot anecdotes of poor souls who are one broken elbow away from bankruptcy. We need a novelistic expose of Wal-Mart, of the broken insurance industry, of the plight of the growing population of "independent contractors" who eke out a living without any benefits and then wait ... and wait ... and wait ... for the check to arrive in the mail.

Again, I can't do this myself. I'm not Nora Roberts. I'm not Mitch Albom (thank goodness). I'm a nobody who sees a niche that needs to be filled.

If you're somebody, and you're reading this, and it inspires you to write the next great Uncle Tom's Cabin, thank you. You're our only hope.


Pom said...

Alas, fiction is not my forte` and I'm not a talented writer anyway.

JK Rowling's novels sat in a trash heap until a visionary disguised as a publisher's secretary stumbled upon them and insisted that her boss review them again. So please do not give up hope. Not that you aspire to be her, but recognition does come in unusual ways from unusual sources.

Have you considered overseas publishers? I only ask because Europeans seem much more willing to confront honesty with a humiility that doesn't seem to exist in America.

Anonymous said...

In many ways I think the current writers of today DO reflect what is going on. While I don't think they set out with the mind set of "let me show through story how I see the world and how I envision change." because that doesn't really reflect that bulk of American humanity.

I think the amazing amount of thriller, sensational, bloody fiction says a lot. I think the current trend towards that involving the pagan and magical says a lot.

Our books, while not necessarily commentary on purpose certain are a commentary.

Does that make sense?

sageweb said...

I would love to write, but I have a hard time figuring out how to make a complete sentence.

yellowdoggranny said...

I have a book in mind, but no one can get past the title:"We're fucked, get used to it"..

Servitor Lucem said...

Michael Moore. Hmmm... Maybe that's it, though. It might be that novels aren't the vehicle anymore, and so no one's written the one that speaks to the times.
I'm not sure that movies are it, anymore, either though. It just might be that the medium we're writing in at this moment is the medium of the day. So, it might turn out that you are writing the influential work, just not a novel.
Hey, I think I just baked a brownie. :-)
Do I get points for that?

Anonymous said...

Just one thing...

"She was portly in the extreme, and my guess is that she wanted to expense a big dinner."

If she was a thin woman would you have jumped to the same conclusion?

Anne Johnson said...

Yep. If she'd been thin, I'd have said "she was emaciated to an extreme..."