In my lifetime I’ve noticed something disturbing about current literature. For a while I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me and even, I grudgingly admit, actively participated in it. Hi everyone, it’s your favorite little sister Jo here, and I just have some things I have to to get off my chest about current literature.
Looking back through my childhood I can point to four or five different moments in my life where my scope of reading was narrowed down to one subject or genre.
It started with Harry Potter, suddenly all the books that were coming out had something to do with magic schools or hidden magical worlds right under our noses. Off the top of my head I can point to Charlie Bone and Artemis Fowl as other books that were published and I was reading at the time. Harry Potter boomed for a very long time and while they were still popular, the rest of the literary world had moved on to dragons.
Dragons were everywhere from drawn out epic quests like the Inheritance Saga to smaller works such as the not-so-creatively named Cornelia Funke novel, Dragon Rider, and even putting quirky dragons in modern day settings like The Last Dragon Chronicles. For a while it felt like dragons were inescapable.
No trend was as inescapable as supernatural romance. Vampires, werewolves and again with the witches (this time plucked out of boarding schools). The varied very little between the cringe-worthy and dull like Twilight to the edgy, gritty and still dull (and back in boarding school) Night Academy. Most of them are poorly written and were published around the same time so quickly that it was obvious that publishing companies were pushing the books out faster and with less attention to quality. Everyone just wanted to ride the Twilight train for as long as they could. It was easy, it was cheap and it made fast money on susceptible teenage girls everywhere.
Now here we are sitting solidly in the latest literature trend, dystopian fiction. It didn’t start with Hunger Games exactly but that was the turning point. Dystopia has killed the vampires and after readers took a small moment to rejoice and breath the fresh air we instantly got sucked back into a marketing trend. I’ve really been thinking a lot about this since I tried picking up Divergent. I hated every second of it. The grammar was terrible. The author has mistaken hyphens for periods throughout and not one person bothered to correct it before putting the story to print. You’d think that would be forgivable if the story was good, but it wasn’t. The characters were one dimensional and empty and I found myself struggling to care.
This is where I noticed it, everything that had been troubling me. All these books being published were full of empty vessels waiting to be filled by the reader. Yes, you reader, can put yourself in any of these characters shoes because they are void of personality themselves. There’s a reason Bella only ever reads Classic literature and the music she listens to is never described further than being “on”. There’s a reason Eragon spends the entire second book of his series sat in one place being taught about elf culture instead of going on a journey that requires more introspection and helps build and define his character. There’s a reason Tris can’t bring herself to choose Abnegation over Dauntless and explore what it means to live for others rather than take the most pleasing and exciting looking opportunity possible. We’re meant to project, we’re meant to put something into the story rather than get something out of it.
Bella is lacks personality so we can give her ours. We can imagine that a fabulously wealthy, sexy vampire man will love us, make us eternally young and give us an eternally young child so that we’ll never feel that our lives are somehow incomplete. No matter how often we’re warned by vampires that such a life is hollow and unappealing we find that there are no negative consequences for living such a lifestyle once we get there. The elf culture gets shoved down our throats and is all about physically attractive things so that when we put ourselves inside of it we can like everything we see. There is nothing ugly or questionable about the elves. Katniss and Tris rise above their oppressive world order and lead a revolution and we could as well because we are not mindless, scared sheeple, we could become just as competent and rebellious as these strong female characters.
Most adventure happen to characters by chance, from getting an acceptance letter, to having your name drawn, being born with good smelling blood and even the least subtle plot catalyst appearing in a random explosion while the main character happens to be present for unrelated reasons. The message is clear; “This could happen to you.”
That’s part of the problem, no one has action demanded of them. The adventure just falls into their lap and then they take action. How many of us at age eleven checked the mail constantly for our own Hogwarts letter? Walked around in the woods looking for dragon eggs? Heard about the new student at school secretly hoped they were somehow unusual, attractive and attracted to you? Readers aren’t encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives anymore, only to take up the mantle if greatness is ever thrust upon them and if it never happens that’s in no way their fault. It’s lazy and it doesn’t challenge anyone to better themselves.
Trends have been flooding the market with garbage and duping readers for years with this strategy and will continue to do so as long as they can make money. Over the years quality has taken a back seat to speed and public interest. It’s only going to get worse guys, usually these trends kick off with a book getting its own movie. I’m looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey.