A History of Books, and Why I’m Annoyed with This Era

Yesterday, I went up to my local library for the first time in about 4 years and just got to browse. Actually, it’s technically been about a decade and a half since I did that, since 4 years ago all I needed was to borrow an encyclopedia.

Likewise, I work at a Starbucks that connects to a Chapters, so nearly every shift, I get the chance to walk through at some point and check out the selection of books – the selection that has been slowly being replaced by household items, globes, and cheese making manuals.

Add that to the existing equation of being a Creative Writing/English Major/Minor, and I think it’s safe to say that I have a large exposure to the books of yesterday and today. And I have to admit – I’m upset.I feel that 22 is an extremely awkward age, for a lot of reasons. In fact, I could go into a whole post about this. This is especially true when it comes to choosing exciting, enticing literature to fill my leisurely reading time with.

Let us look through the history of books. We’ve got our Medieval, our Renaissance, Enlightenment – 3 distinct periods that introduced Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Romeo and Juliet, Paradise Lost, Poor Richard’s Almanack… these were really critical times in literature, booming in ideas and words and different styles of writing.

But frankly, not my favourite. I know a lot of people who love these books – base their degrees on Shakespeare, curl up on the beach with Milton (figuratively, of course…) but these sorts of books have a definite academic feel to me – I open a Chaucer cover and I can almost hear the essay topics screaming from the paper.

The romantics are a bit better. I liked Frankenstein and his monster, the ideas behind the story. I think Don Juan is a little bit sexy, a little bit dangerous, and he leaps off the page when I read about his conquests. Somewhere in there we’ve also got Jane Austen, creating female role models, male hunks we compare to the men in our life… it’s a bit more interesting. Still, I don’t automatically reach for one of those when I’m trying to fall asleep at night. Nor do I grab a Victorian era novel, no matter how cool the Bronte sisters seem (Ha… ha.)

Modernism! Now, there were some cool dudes. Wouldn’t you have loved to live in Paris with Hemingway and Joyce, go out drinking and hang out in one of Stein’s saloons? This is probably the newest era I’ve actually learned about, and frankly, the first one I’ve checked into out of pure curiosity, and not just because a teacher/professor made me read one of their books. THIS. THIS is what’s cool about today.

I just took a class on American lit from 1945-present. Have you heard of the Beats movement? John Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg – names I’d heard before but never known, stories my classmates had mentioned but had gone in one ear and out the other. These guys were cool and between the Beats and the Modernists, I’ve had a very educational 3 months.

But… and I ask this out of genuine curiosity, as a student of English, a writer (inexperienced and still studying, but a writer nonetheless) – what’s the next era? What are we going to be remembered by?

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading short stories – mostly because that’s what we focus on largely in school. I’ve also been engrossed with non-fiction, autobiographies and travel literature. So the odd time I’m able to take my head out of the required readings/ real life turmoils and venture into the fiction world, what do I find?  50 Shades of Grey, Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, Stephenie Meyer and Danielle Steele (She’s been around a while, but she’s still influencing the world of readers!), depending on the age bracket. And this is where I come back to – 22 is an awkward age. Why?

Kids/teens have so many options! Harry Potter, Vampire Series, Gossip Girl… whatever your style, there’s a book for you. These can really lead you through to your high school graduation – once in a while, if you dig a little deeper into the shelves, you can even find something magical, a crossover book that can astound a reader of any age.

When you’re in post-secondary school, like I am, your world opens to a brand new spectrum of readers, much of whom I covered above. Your tastes change – you become a little more selective with what kinds of books you want to invest your time in. But, if you’re anything like me, you want to experience literature of TODAY, not just yesterday.

Browsing through fiction, it’s difficult to find the balance between kids books and adult books. There’s that section, the whispered horror in creative writing classrooms, called “Young Adult Fiction,” but I’m not interested in reading about college hookups and iPhone texting debacles and “OMG, I’m famous from a sex tape and now I live in HOLLYWOOOOD” stories. However, I’m also not at the stage where I want to read about divorced, middle age women, midlife crises. I’ve never been into fantasy novels, with the exception of Harry Potter, and, as stated above, I don’t want to always have to turn to the “classics” to experience great literature.

So where does that leave me today? In that in-between, “not a girl, not yet a women” state of reading? Too hip for Hemingway, too taught for Twilight.  Obviously, there are a few books out there that break this conception, but they are fewer and far between, making way for the instant best-sellers, the memoirs of the teen starlet and the fiction attempts of the former child star. What direction are we heading in as readers, or as writers? What will this era of writing be called? I mean, seriously – what kind of books are we accepting these days? Sometimes I believe the days of truly great literature are behind me – I know a lot of people already do, refusing to step into the present day fiction we have at our fingertips. There’s nothing wrong with Nicholas Sparks but his books are scoffed at by those who enjoy what they define as “better.” There’s something deep and wonderful about a writer like Ginsberg, but unless you take an active interest in literature, how do you even learn his name? Life of Pi, The Time Traveler’s Wife (Beautiful fiction, in my opinion), Telegraph Avenue, The Fault In Our Stars, books reviewed in this – I know there is still good literature out there. I just wish I didn’t have to look so hard to find it. I wish I could walk into the local library and have it screaming at me from the shelves, instead of the latest erotic fiction paperbacks on “bestseller” display.

How will future readers describe our voice?


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1 Response to A History of Books, and Why I’m Annoyed with This Era

  1. Rae Whitehead says:

    Try some Jose Saramago or Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels, and come check my bookshelf or Aunt Wendy’s.

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