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Is There Anybody Out There?

There's plenty of writers in America today, just not too many great ones.

And so it's come to this. The country which produced Mark Twain and Edith Wharton, along with names like Hawthorne, Poe, Melville and Pynchon now has Jenny McCarthy as its literary representative. Writers used to be taken seriously. Then again, writers used to be serious. Even the wild Hunter Thompson could provide thought provoking analysis on a variety of subjects when appearing on late night talk shows.

Today, however, we have Ms. McCarthy appearing on CNN's prime time lineup to promote a “comedic” anti-Catholic book. Of course, literary discussion should be open to all points of view, but Ms. McCarthy ain't exactly Jonathan Swift. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't find comparing Christ to Justin Bieber the definition of high comedy.

Still, it would be unfair to blame Ms. McCarthy for the fact that writers no longer hold a place of honor at the American table. Truth be told, many writers of artful fiction don't seem to want to be embraced by the mainstream of our country. Go to many literary websites and you will find writing which is so obscure, so completely frustrating, that you will feel the author is giving you the finger.

Challenging writing is terrific. Pretentious writing is just annoying.

The question, then, is if there's anyone out there brave enough to write material that's serious while being at least potentially accessible. Let's hope so. Otherwise, we're left with the likes of a middle aged Playboy centerfold who takes her writing about as seriously as she takes herself. That or some obscure “genius” who doesn't want anyone to understand what he or she puts down on paper.

Spare us. 

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Richard Aries October 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Any thoughts on Jonathan Franzen? I read The Corrections and Freedom recently, and while I found both of them interesting and emotionally satisfying, I don't recall too much in the way of "artful" writing. I'm currently re-reading Charles Portis' "True Grit" (last read when I was 12, just before the John Wayne movie came out!) and it is a masterpiece of characterization and dialogue. Not quite a "current" work, admittedly.
cjd11 October 17, 2012 at 05:01 AM
I'm not a fan of Jenny McCarthy- her acting, her pseudo-science anti-vax advocacy, her writing, anything- but I think this article misses the point. I think Ms. McCarthy was comparing how she felt about Jesus to how teen girls now feel about Justin Bieber. That's different than holding them up as equivalent, it talks about the depth of her feeling. Besides that point, I think there's more good writing than ever because of the diversity of platforms. Granted, I read mostly non-fiction, but the internet is full of quality long-form writing on a variety of topics. And with ebooks available from local libraries and many classic works of fiction available for free through public domain (Plato, Shakespeare, H.G. Wells, Stoker, to name a few), it's harder to imagine any other time where regular people had access to works of literature. It's just not the case where you chose between Jenny McCarthy or James Joyce.
Sean Crose October 24, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Good point. I would argue, however, that the mainstream is not entirely immune to the charms of serious writing - at least not yet. I could be wrong here, though I certainly hope I'm not.
Sean Crose October 24, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Sadly, I'm not knowledgeable enough on Franzen to comment (shame on me, I know!). He does, on the other hand, seem to receive accolades as well as high book sales, so maybe he's a part of the solution we're looking for! As for "True Grit," Donna Tartt (a writer I admire) is a huge fan. It's a book that may, as far as I can tell, be gaining in reputation as time goes on. Clearly it's extremely well-written.
Sean Crose October 24, 2012 at 09:49 PM
True enough, but I'm talking about contemporary fiction in general.One of the things I love about the era we're living in is the fact we have so much access to so much good writing. For serious fiction to get off the margins of society, though, some terrific (and entertaining) contemporary writers need to step up to the plate. As for the Justin Bieber comment, I'd simply argue that holding two individuals side by side to display an equal amount of love and devotion definitely constitutes a comparison.

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