Saturday, December 03, 2005

On Wednesday, November 16, 2005, Norman Mailer was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution at the National Book Awards. Still defiant at age 82, Mailer said it right when he stated, 'The passion readers used to feel for venturing into the serious novel has withered." After this bold statement, he toasted the future Tolstoys and the futures Joyces.[1]

I believe Mailer got it half-right. The passion is still there, but the mainstream publishing industry has failed somewhat to serve those with appetites for the literary masterpiece and choosing instead to force feed us overused plots, tired prose and dull images all for the sake of profits. Yet their profits still dwindle as a result of competition from other forms of media infringing on what used to be sacred ground for the publishing industry.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good contemporary commercial thriller such as those written by Barry Eisler, Lee Child, P.D. James or Patricia Cornwell, but I always return to the classics of Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and the others. There's something about these ageless works that most contemporary pieces lack.

Perhaps the definition of literary masterpiece needs to be updated. The current establishment dictates that pages and pages of exposition (no matter how superbly written and meaningful) cannot be published. The industry has created leaner standards and literary agents are the gatekeepers. Authors know the standards and play by the rules. Once in a while, a rogue author comes along – so bloody brilliant that rules don't apply. What we need today is a rogue.

[1] Even in Triumph, Mailer's a Battler, Hillel Italie, AP National Writer, 11/17/2005

by B.K. Birch


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