Monday, December 05, 2005

A "Great Fiction Crash"? Sounds Good To Me!

"Sept. 11 has changed the cultural climate. People can't read fiction in the last few years. They're disillusioned. It's a death of the imagination, perhaps." So says Penguin Canada senior editor Barbara Berson, in a Globe & Mail article by Michael Posner called The Great Fiction Crash of 2005. So much for "Canadian understatement".

Looking over my list of books read in the last four years, I don't see any dramatic shift in reading preferences. I still choose fiction over non-fiction, and though my taste in both is registering some change, I'd be more inclined to attribute this shift to growing older than I would to terrorist attacks. Those hate-mongers are so keen to be the attributable source of our every woe, they'd take credit for the common cold if they could -- why give them credit for flagging fiction sales?

Here's my theory: we don't need any help being unhappy, and yet our fiction writers would beg to differ. And we let 'em. Say what you will about the shoddy prose of The DaVinci Code, at least it invests the world -- and Western history -- with some meaning. And perhaps The DaVinci Code is this generation's Pollyana, against which our fiction writers are levelling their own "terrible honesty" the way Dashiell Hammett (his dictum, by the way) and Dorothy Parker did in their day. But there's a terrible honesty, and then there's a terrible tedium. A writer of the grotesque, like Dickens, could deliver the former with flair and panache, while the latter seems to be the call of the day.

Myself, I'm happiest reading a book that gives me someone half-decent (but not too decent) to root for. Maybe I'm just weird that way.


Bleak Mouse said...

They've been announcing "the death of fiction" since I was old enough to read The New York Times Book Review. (No, not 47.) It's either that or the end of the world.

Some of my graying hair is DEFINITELY "post-9/11." I think I have a syndrome. Someone hold my hand.

Whisky Prajer said...

I sense an ad-campaign: "Buy fiction, or the terrorists will have won!"

DarkoV said...

How much fiction can read about fiction before that double-negating principle of (non-fictional) mathematics takes place and we're reading fact, not fiction?

Perhaps in these testy times, where everything is open for questionning, we should dispense with the "fiction" and the "non-fiction" labels and just lable all this paper output as "friction". It's all writing guaranteed to irritate.

Scott said...

I've been reading 'the death of fiction' articles for what feels like forever, though the new 'it's the terrorists' angle hits a new low in irksome.

Long before 2001, I've tended to read more non-fiction than fiction but my post-9/11 experience has been the opposite of this article's view. These days, I feel awash in media bias, White House spin, reality TV, semantic games and revisionist history. Since everything now feels like fiction, the clear viewpoint of one artist's honest take on the world feels like refreshing truth.

As I'd said before, when the characters on 'Six Feet Under' are more human than the participants of 'The Amazing Race', something feels off!