Jay Sage: Welcome to another edition of the Chat Wrap right here at The Entertainment Bureau, your home for All Things Entertaining. Jay Sage here, joined by Jared Feldman as always. Today we’re talking the world of literature, where The Hunger Games trilogy remains the top-selling fiction book in America, following the release of the hit movie in April.
Jared Feldman: I think we’ve really seen a shift in how people learn to read over the past decade. Classic literature like Tom Saywer, and Wind in the Willows which used to be used as introductory literature has been replaced by Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games. Older literature was more conducive to getting new readers into other classics, the way things are set up now, people will continue only reading young adult literature, which is fun, but not challenging or all together inspiring in the long run. Are we doomed to a number of presold ideas? Are new werewolf franchises, or perhaps kid spy novels about to be all that people read?
Sage: A little over a decade ago, the trouble was that kids just weren’t reading anything. Parents and schools panicked because it seemed as though the television set was the only desirable location for story-telling. Then Harry Potter came along and changed everything. Kids were reading again, even the ones that weren’t particularly bookish by nature. That was good. But then something funny happened. These books, originally aimed at 13-year-olds, became an adult thing too. Then Twilight and The Hunger Games followed, as you mentioned, with a dropoff in artistic value from HP. Suddenly, there’s an entire supergenre of Young Adult Fantasy Romance.
Feldman: I’ve got no problem with that candy lit, easy and fun to read, but it seems that people don’t like a challenge and just settle for what’s easy. I’ve known a number of people who read the Gossip Girl novels, not for me, but fine. My issue is when this candy lit is regarded as good by people who have no frame of reference. I can unequivocally tell you that The Great Gatsby is ten times better than any young adult novel that will ever be written. I know that because the successful formula that’s been created isn’t going to be changed in the name of quality because the money continues to flow.
Sage: Even before this recent trend, I believe that plot became elevated over character and theme. You look at some of the popular adult authors – James Patterson, Sue Grafton, Danielle Steele. It’s not young adult, but it’s still treacly. I think people simply have a shorter attention span, and what’s demanded out of a book is for it to be a page turner. I maintain that The Da Vinci Code isn’t a good book, for all its popularity. The greatest compliment it was ever paid was “I couldn’t put it down.” I hate to sound too elitist, but when did that become the goal?
Feldman: Compelling is good to get readers, but there’s gotta be some substantial meat to the story. I draw the comparison to pop music and superhero movies, where presold ideas are rarely altered for fear of losing the populace’s money. Nobody wants to take risks anymore, and those that do usually fall by the wayside for failing to comply with the current standard.
Sage: Of course, the major publishing companies don’t quite command the type of vertical integration that the major studios and record labels do in film and music. Whereas mainstream movie theatres simply don’t carry many independent films, the average Barnes and Noble is still a treasure-trove for the stuff. So, the important thing is to look.
Feldman: How do we get people to do that though. When everyone is surrounding by the pop lit, how does one venture outside. English classes in school, while a good idea seem to drive people away from reading literature. Since reading strenuous books is tantamount to homework we find a majority of youth reading the literature we’ve discussed for fun, and never considering Grapes of Wrath as a viable reading substitute for Harry Potter.
Sage: That’s an interesting point, that the classics seem more like a chore, like doing math. Could be. As a theatre person, I get frustrated by the sheer number of people who simply refuse to take part in anything to do with Shakespeare, presumably because of the association with 11th grade English class and Hamlet. Anyway, here’s a nasty tidbit. The topselling non-Hunger Games book currently, is Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Seems interesting by the title, until you do a little research. It’s an erotic novel that started out as Twilight fan fiction.
Feldman: You know what’s scarier? The next three books on the New York TImes combined on line and off line books sales list are Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, followed closely by the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Suffice it to say we haven’t progressed much.
Sage: It’s a real pain in my tenderly pulsating memb….err, nevermind. I think that’s going to do it for this edition of the Chat Wrap. We’ll do something next week on some books that are of actual quality. For now, head out to your local used book store and find something by Haruki Murakami. We’ll catch you later, here on your home for All Things Entertaining.