I recently finished a novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and I can barely remember what happened except to say it had the general message that racism is bad, mixed race identity confusing. This message has been delivered a thousand times already. It seems to be enough to raise the same question over and over without adding anything new. But people praise the book. It’s supposed to be really good. And it was well-written, but shouldn’t there be more to a novel than “well-written”?
I don’t mean to pick on this particular novel. Disappointment with most contemporary novels is a pattern for me, and I wondered if it was my fault. Erikleo recommended Colin Wilson’s book, The Craft of the Novel, after I had made these complaints in a previous post. I have to say, I found Colin Wilson’s open and thoughtful critique of all authors great and small right up my alley. He raises the bar…and isn’t afraid of disparaging James Joyce or claiming that “The Lord of the Rings must be regarded as one of the most successful works of art of the twentieth century.” This pomposity would be irksome under normal circumstances, but in the context of our lax intellectual standards in fiction these days, I found it refreshing in its decisiveness, even if he turns out to be wrong. He insists that successful novels should have meaning and, more specifically, ideas. He summarizes the novelist’s goals at the end of chapter four, As for Living:
1. The aim of the novel is to produce wide-angle consciousness. Everyday consciousness is narrow and limited; the novel is one of the most interesting compensations that man as so far devised.
2. The novel is substitute experience. Most of us have an appetite for a far wider range of experience than our lives afford. To some extent, the novel can provide it. It can even provide forms of experience that would have been impossible in reality.
3. The novel is a form of thought-experiment. Like the thought-experiments of the philosopher, its aim is to teach us something about the real world.
4. Ideally, the aim of the novel is not only to produce wide-angle consciousness, but also three-dimensional consciousness—something allied to the opium experience (the sense of relaxing and opening up), but with an unimpaired sense of reality—a recognition of the enormous and fascinating complexity of the world.
5. Unsuccessful novels are thought-experiments that have failed to ‘come out right’, like a calculation that has gone wrong, or a laboratory experiment in which the experimenter has made some crucial error.
6. The aim of all these thought-experiments is the exploration of human freedom.
Freedom? Thought experiments? This sounds like the language of philosophy. Indeed, Wilson says, “‘Describing reality’ and ‘telling the truth’ are only secondary aims, the novelist’s credentials—his authority for demanding the reader’s attention. His real aim is to understand himself, to grasp his own purpose…” In other words, writing fiction is a philosophical journey.
Wilson seems aware of the usual platitudes that come from writer’s workshops. You can succeed in doing all the things the workshops tell you to do (show don’t tell, keep consistent POV, use only relevant details, don’t describe physical appearance by having characters gaze into mirrors, avoid omniscient unless you’re awesome…) and still fail because you don’t have ideas. “Most of the writers who have landed in blind alleys—from Flaubert to Beckett—have done so because they placed too much faith in artistic intuition, and too little in thought.” I think this is still going on. Would-be writers go to school and study writing. But what will they write about? They are told they already have things to write about, that everyone has something to say, it’s just a matter of saying it right. I disagree. This Mr. Rogers attitude has made writers intellectually and conceptually lazy. Workshop junkies would be better off stepping outside the ring for a moment to expand their horizons.
Wilson’s not advocating a cerebral novel with lengthy soliloquies or sermons. He’s saying it’s not enough to hold a mirror up to the universe. “A writer needs to have some idea—no matter how vague—of what he would actually prefer.” The mirror should be held up to the author as well. So many novels simply tell the story of a bleak and meaningless universe, a general sense of dissatisfaction, author nowhere to be found. Many would argue that the author is always there all along. I can see this point; we like to say that journalists, even when they take every step to be impartial, can’t help but reflect themselves in their selection of details, that Objectivity is impossible. However, novelists shouldn’t strive to be journalists. Even if the author is “there all along” holding up the mirror to the world, he’s still trying to hide, to make no claims, and this is boring. I suspect that if authors are forced to come out of hiding, they might take it upon themselves to have something to say.
I also suspect that omniscient has gone out of style because it puts the narrator-author too much in the foreground. (Here I’m not speaking of the clever omniscient of Jonathan Franzen, for instance, where it pops in from time to time, but stays for the most part in 3rd person limited and never makes sweeping claims). The topic of omniscience could be an entire post, so I won’t go into it here.
But this concept of expressing a positive idea of oneself is itself a bit vague. Wilson insists we must tell the story of a search for freedom, but here does not explain what freedom is. The most I could find were statements such as this:
Freedom is the same for all human beings, but the maze inside each of us is different. The novelist’s aim is to reach the freedom at the end of his own maze.
Lovely prose, but what does it mean?
Next post will be on the meaning of freedom. I give you all time to ponder that. Heavy topic, I know. My philosopher readers will have a lot to say and I can’t wait to hear it, but I hope it won’t be too intimidating for the fiction writers out there.
What do you think is the aim of the novel? (Not necessarily a philosophical novel this time, but all novels.) What do you think makes a novel meaningful? What’s your favorite novel? Why?
29 thoughts on “Why Contemporary Novels Lack Substance”
I’m not sure there is any one aim of a novel. I know why I pick one up. To be entertained, to engage in a fantasy (I mean small ‘f’ fantasy here, not necessarily genre fantasy), to learn some things, to be exposed to new ideas, to live vicariously through characters, to know what happens with those characters, or to just be distracted from real life for a while.
I used to (somewhat subconsciously) seek life lessons in novels, until I realized that every novel is dominated by the author’s vision of reality, even if they do everything they can to be objective, and so any apparent lesson about life is really just the author’s opinion. (I now try to learn my life lessons from real history covered by multiple viewpoints.)
I don’t know what makes a novel meaningful. It depends on what we mean by “meaningful”. A novel that has enduring popularity will usually become a classic, making it significant in culture. What usually makes a novel significant to me is when it makes me think about things I hadn’t thought about before. (Which is probably why I like science fiction.)
Sorry, I don’t really have one favorite. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in Tolkien’s world, so much that I started to learn his tricks and the magic started fraying. As I’ve gotten older, I tend to take novels on their own terms, and then move on. While I still get a lot of enjoyment from them, they don’t really grab me like they did when I was younger. I think part of the reason was my realization from the second paragraph above.
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I suspect you’re right that there’s not one aim to the novel. Colin Wilson’s approach is somewhat bullish, but interesting at least. I like his audacity…it creates good conversation!
I never felt that way about history, per se, but nonfiction in general has always felt more substantive to me. I felt reading novels took too much time; I could get that ‘information’ from a few lines in a non-fiction work. In fact, I didn’t start reading and writing fiction again until about five years ago, and that was just because I was in the middle of reading some frustratingly dense philosophy (Husserl) and I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I picked up War and Peace off the bookshelf. After that, I read Anna Karenina, then The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The last one was the most moving novel I’ve ever read, possibly because my father had just died, but I like to think I can be more objective…although I admit that’s up for debate 🙂
In the Death of II, I felt the power of fiction over non (it was the only book to ever make me weep, and with a strange mixture of joy and sadness). This is one of Tolstoy’s most realistic works, close rather than sweeping. In it I felt there were truths that can be expressed only in fiction, although here I’m getting slightly mystical. All I can say is, for me, only fiction can reach that terrain, whatever it is.
I’m interested in exploring what this terrain is. It’s got to have the ideas, but they must be expressed so that they hit you in your gut without thereby becoming unclear. Very very difficult to achieve that.
After the Death of II, nothing even comes close for me. But I realize my expectations are unrealistically high.
I’m with Colin Wilson in the sense that I want more ideas in novels, but I don’t know about freedom being the ultimate goal. And as you say, I’m not sure there is one ultimate goal.
Wow, you’ve been reading the classics. I suspect one reason why you find contemporary fiction so wanting is that it’s suffering in comparison with the best works across decades and centuries. There’s probably only a handful of books in a generation that will eventually make it into that pantheon. If you read a penny dreadful from 1850, you might feel a little better about modern fiction. (Strangely enough, I’ve actually enjoyed pulp fiction from the 20s and 30s. It’s unmitigated hack work, but often a lot of fun.)
Your reply made me think of the only book I’ve read that ever made me cry. It was one of the books in Robin Hobb’s Farseer series. And when I say “cry”, I mean bawling. Those books are emotional rollercoasters.
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You’re probably right. Nothing compares to the classics for sure. I thought it was funny that Colin Wilson attacked even those…including Flaubert, Hemingway, Joyce. I couldn’t believe Madame Bovary didn’t make the cut for him…I liked that one.
I definitely bawled my eyes out too. I was sort of amazed that a book could affect me like that. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but the ending was incredible. The whole story had the feel of “life is meaningless and you are nothing” but then the ending…oh, I won’t tell. Of course, if I go back to read it I’ll probably be disappointed.
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Glad you like the Colin Wilson book. Another where he uses his existential criticism is titled The Strength to Dream. I am also fascinated with your discussion re philosophical novels. Is yours published yet? I may look up the other one you critique.
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I’m not published yet, still a long way to go, based on how long it’s taken me so far. But who knows, maybe it’s more like a snowball effect as you reach the end, and things move along faster.
Quite fascinating, I enjoy the exposure to literary theory.
I wonder/worry if the notion of “a search for freedom” is just another way of saying that the protagonist overcomes a conflict, albeit in more existentialism terms, in the manner of Merleau-Ponty’s or Sartre’s speaking on freedom being realized in the creation of an obstacle, such that the search for freedom is the search for the obstacle that realizes one’s freedom and therein one’s worth. Maybe. Of course, as you note, the “search for freedom” is so vague as to include other interpretations and with them, other novels that don’t fit this conflict/conflict-resolved form, such as something by Burroughs.
It’s interesting to think of the novel as a form of philosophy because when I think of philosophy in the form of art it is non-representational, or at least, in being representational challenges the ideas of representational art. This sort of art is philosophy, pure and simple, because it makes claims about truth and meaning by being non-representational — in being abstract, the work isn’t a window to another scene where there is the truth, but the image itself is the truth, such that it is a work of philosophy in its being a theory about truth. I don’t think a novel can ever achieve the sort of non-representationality sufficient for it being considered philosophy in the form of art. It might be a work of art with philosophical ideas, but it cannot amount to philosophy manifested as art so long as is doesn’t challenge and question how it represents and it thereby being self-referential.
Thanks for posing these interesting questions.
I think Wilson did have in mind the overcoming of some obstacle in his idea of freedom, but he never gets detailed enough in explaining what he means by freedom. I think this is where his critique fails. From philosophy, I have other notions of freedom, and I don’t know whether he meant to include those or not.
However, he does critique Sartre’s “The Roads to Freedom” and says that the first book, “The Age of Reason” is satisfying because “Mathieu…certainly has a problem that creates the necessary tension: he has to find money for his mistress to have an abortion, and no one will lend it to him.” But the complains that extending the canvas in the trilogy fails for Sartre. I’ll go ahead and quote the whole paragraph because I think you’ll find it interesting. I found his critique spot on here:
“[Sartre] believes, mistakenly, that the seriousness of his theme, and the impending disaster of the war, will keep the readers absorbed. This is not so. The reader needs a perfectly simple problem to occupy his mind, like Mathieu’s search for abortion money. Without such a problem there can be no tension, and no release of tension. He even commits the cardinal sin against tension by switching arbitrarily from episode to episode in the middle of a paragraph, so that just as you are getting interested in one set of characters, he introduces others. Yet there are a few highly successful episodes, which reveal quite clearly what has gone wrong… And perhaps the most memorable episode in ‘The Reprieve’ takes place on a train, when a hospital for paralytics is being evacuated, and a young man finds himself lying next to a pretty girl—both paralyzed from the waist down. There comes a point where the girl has to call for the nurse because she has diarrhea, and a chamberpot is placed underneath her. For a few minutes he feels revolted; then gains control of himself, tells himself she is sick, and feels an upsurge of love and tenderness. THIS is an example of the breaking of new ground in the novel. But Sartre immediately switches to a scene in which politicians read Masaryk’s declaration of submission to Hitler. He obviously believes that every serious reader will find the change of scene significant and moving. In fact, it is an irritating bore, and I have no doubt that everyone who has ever read the book has hastily flipped through the next dozen or so pages, looking for the next episode with the young couple. Long before the end of the third volume, the novel has disintegrated…But is the ‘Roads to Freedom’ a failure because Sartre was unable to solve the problem of how Mathieu will achieve freedom? Clearly not, since the first volume was so successful. It is a failure because Sartre forgot to observe the basic law of tension-and-discharge.”
I don’t agree with Wilson about the switching from scene to scene being arbitrary, but it was annoying! And I did skip all the war stuff to get to the relationship scenes.
He doesn’t say anything about Merleau-Ponty, but he does talk about Burroughs briefly. He says Joyce, Hemingway and Faulkner “had implied that the novel has a deeper purpose than entertainment: to ‘tell the truth’—even if it is only the author’s own ‘private’ truth.” But he found Burroughs less than impressive.
What you say about art and philosophy is interesting. I think Plato’s allegory of the cave is a perfect example of “in being representational challenges the ideas of representational art.” The entire allegory is itself a shadow on the wall of the cave, within the realm of “picture-thinking”, and at the same time urges the reader to go beyond the picture-thinking. Can a novel achieve this? I can’t think of any off the top of my head that have, but I’d love to find one!
I agree with Self Aware that there is no single “aim” of a novel. Some novels aim at pure storytelling entertainment, some are about verbal artistry and exploring the language (Joyce’s more outré works), some aim to share experience, some to fulfill fantasies, some to teach lessons. Wilson strikes me as a killjoy and far too rigid in his dictum that novels must have “meaning.” Maybe the ones that aspire to be called “art” do, but I think there may also be a legitimate distinction between “meaning” and “experience.” Like myths, the best novels can not be tied down to any one, definitive meaning. Which is why they are great.
Personally, I like all of the above. If I had to subsist on a diet of highly meaningful novels for the rest of my life, I would get sick of them very quickly 🙂
Mostly I’ve been reading Irish novelists: Banville, Sebastian Barry, Joseph O’Connor. Plenty of experience, storytelling and verbal artistry to enjoy there, with meanings always debatable. That’s what I like to read. And in my own writing, I aim to get aspects my own inner experience onto paper in the form of a fictional narrative. It’s a very satisfying exercise and I am delighted if others enjoy it too, but I don’t feel any need to conform to Mr. Wilson’s idea of what THE NOVEL ought to be 😉
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Wilson can definitely be seen as a killjoy. I derive a lot of joy out of killjoys, however, probably through some kind of perversion which I will blame on academia, justly or not!
I know there are a lot of people who read novels for entertainment only, and most are written for that purpose. There’s really nothing wrong with it. I just don’t want to read for that purpose because I don’t read that much and I figure when I sit down with a book, it had better count!
Funny, I tend to watch the most idiotic television and I’m perfectly satisfied with it. Perhaps it has something to do with expectations. I eagerly await my TV time at night, and maybe this pure entertainment is taking the place of popular novels for me. Right now I’m in the midst of an “Arrow” marathon…the dialogue is terrible, the characters are cliche, morality black and white, everyone looks unrealistically perfect, even the plot—the area where many such shows shine—has a lot of holes in it. But I can’t stop watching it!
Yes, I think you’re onto something, and I have just the opposite tendency. I won’t watch TV unless I consider it high quality and worth the investment of time, whereas I will pick up a book for light entertainment.
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From time to time, I have been “weeding out” my bookshelf, removing books that do not have so much meaning to me again. As a result, bit by bit, most novels and other fiction have gone (leaving a few exceptions). I feel about most fiction like you, it takes too much time and I prefer nonfiction, essays and the like most of the time. Most of what I write is also nonfiction. The exception are some of my Tsish-stories, which are hard to classify and not the typical type of fiction.
For a long time, I thought I was quite uneducated when it comes to literature because I had read so few of the famous novels. But they just did not appeal to me and I think the reason is in my personality structure. This kind of literature is written for people with a different type of personality structure. Many of those books just do not resonate with me.
It is hard to talk about favorites. Each book I like is liked for a different reason, so it is hard to compare them. They are on different dimensions of a multi-dimensional space. Authors I like include Yasushi Inoue, Stanislaw Lem, Chinua Achebe (“Thins fall appart” is worth reading), Ben Okri (try “The Famished Road”). I recently started reading stories by Arno Schmidt, a strange and eccentric type of literature that is probably untranslatable. But so far, I have only read some of his shorter stories.
Of many famous authors, I end up liking their letters, autobiographies or nonfiction. E.g. I am currently reading Boris Pasternak’s letters to Georgia (don’t know if that exists in English). Another example, my favorite book by Joseph Conrad is “The Mirror of the Sea”, not a novel but a mix of autobiographical things, essays etc.
I am just not really a novel reader.
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I tried reading Dr. Zhivago a while ago, but never could get into it. I don’t think I gave it a fair chance…I took it along on a camping trip and I was distracted by bugs 🙂
Dr. Zhivago is standing in my bookshelf but I have never started reading it. I think I took it from the books of my grandmother when she had died. I am not sure I will try reading it.
I have noted before (http://asifoscope.org/2013/01/29/some-notes-on-books/) that I am more and more interested in non-fiction. I like reading essays and things like that. And somewhere else I wrote: “It looks like to enjoy the typical fiction, the type dealing with people and their psychology and their relationships and their everyday life, you need abilities I don’t have. I am not very good at dealing with people face to face. Compared with most people, I think my social skills are relatively limited. And it looks like you need such social skills in order to enjoy or understand or write this type of fiction. I imagine there are people who have no musical skills at all. Such non-musical people will not enjoy music that I would find totally fascinating. For them, it will be some kind of complex noise, leaving them at a loss. They don’t have an organ to perceive the interesting and beautiful structures in it that make it great. With me and a lot of fiction, it looks like it is just like that. I am sure a lot of those books and stories are absolutely great but they don’t talk to me. I am lacking the specific mental muscles needed to play those games that make up the reading experience when reading such books. I don’t know how to derive enjoyment from them, reading such books is hard work for me. There are many books that are said to be great and I tried to read them but got stuck and gave up. Why must I work my way through pages and pages describing what invented people say and do? If the author wants to convey a certain idea or thought with this, why does he or she not plainly write it down?”.
I don’t know about you but for me many of these novels are probably shallow not because they are so in themselves but because I lack the kind of sense organ needed to enjoy them. Its like having to probe the shape of a small object, e.g. a coin, with boxing gloves on your hands.
Well for someone who lacks the fiction muscle, you sure come up with nice metaphors—picking up a coin with the boxing glove.
My husband is one of those people who has no musical ability and virtually no appreciation. He said the moment he knew he was different from everyone else was in high school when some kid had a radio up to his ear rocking out to “Get a job”, and he thought, “What’s this guy going on about?”
When my husband told me the story, I laughed and said, “Yeah, that song sucks!”
And he said, “What popular song doesn’t?”
And I thought about how I secretly like Justin Timberlake, and then called my husband a snob…but the truth is, he really doesn’t listen to classical either, even though he owns a few CDs. He just doesn’t LIKE music! Unfathomable to me, but there are people like that.
I imagine if this is the way fiction is for you, then you just gotta shrug your shoulders and move on. I know there’s no way I could get my husband to like music. Anytime we’re in the car together, we have a little mini-struggle over whether there will be music playing. When I win, I try to play something he won’t hate at low volume, like Joni Mitchell or James Taylor (although he likes to mock James Taylor, “Get to fucking Carolina in your mind already”).
I have tried a couple of Ben Okri’s and cant get into them. How about the Japanese writer, Murakami? Now, Im not sure my mentor, Colin Wilson, wd rate him but I do! Indeed there is room for all approaches to novels but I agree with CW that a lot of contemporary novels are a tad anaemic, and merely reflecting a kind of life-failure or are more concerned with style. Here is another Quote from Craft of The Novel. Wilson wonders if he could teach writers more of WHAT to write instead of HOW to write:
The problem with such a writer (a beginner writer) is that he is not capable of being his own Socrates: of asking the right questions. It seemed to me,that the problem, if I wanted to teach that basic trick of creation, was to teach him to ask himself the right questions, and then give some indication of how to go about finding the answers.
A case in point: I have just re-read Ouspensky’s The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin about a protagonist who feels he has lived his life in exactly the same details over and over again (Like Groundhog Day!) Now it isn’t a brilliant novel but you are carried along by the idea and it is quite chilling and moving in parts! Anyone else read it?
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I haven’t read it, but Groundhog Day sounds a lot like my life. 🙂 That’s an interesting premise. I can imagine it would lead readers to reflect on those mostly neglected aspect of life—the pervasive repetition of it all.
On teaching writers to become Socrates, maybe it could be simpler than that. Maybe the main thing is to get authors to think of the takeaway message, the “moral of the story.” I think many would be surprised to find they hadn’t thought to ask that question. Of course, some would bristle at the question. But if the “moral of the story” is simply “there is no moral of the story, because there is no moral of the story in life,” then I think we’d be right to say that’s been done, it’s cliché, dull. Even frustrating.
This was a really interesting and insightful post.
Like others, I am a little hesitant to say there is a single aim of the novel. Furthermore, I think there is something paradoxical and perhaps problematic about Wilson’s notion of seeing the writing of fiction as fundamentally concerned with developing self-knowledge. It is paradoxical because the activity of writing fiction is not simply a private activity that I carry on by myself, or even within a small circle of friends. Rather, writing fiction is a public activity, as fiction is something that is meant to be shared with the world, so it seems odd to understand something that is meant to be shared with the world in terms of the private quest for self-understanding, rather than as the production of a worldly artifact that all can share in.
It may be true that in writing fiction we come to know ourselves, but this does not mean that the point of writing fiction is to know ourselves. Engaging in politics may develop certain capacities, but it is absurd for reasons that Elster point out to think the point of politics is fundamentally concerned with self-development. Similarly, it seems to me that while writing fiction certainly aids in generating self-understanding, the point of writing fiction is making something, rather than knowing something, so I have a hard time seeing writing fiction as fundamentally concerned with developing self-knowledge.
That said, I have a similar problem with novels that you do, and I find that I tend to be drawn far more to the “classics” than most contemporary fiction. Although, I recently read Beloved by Toni Morrison, and I absolutely adored that book.
Thanks for your kind words.
I found myself hesitating over his thesis. His writing doesn’t strike me as academic (the thesis would have to be defended; instead, it’s just stated). So I have no idea why he thinks there is only one aim for fiction. He tends to just lay down the law and after a few pages, you learn to let it go and see where his laws will carry you. (Generally speaking, though, he’s not consistent, and this can be frustrating.)
On the other hand, the self-knowledge that the author supposedly derives from writing fiction is meant to be carried over to the readers. An author may achieve self-knowledge through his writing and still write crap that no one would want to read. I do this all the time 🙂
Wilson makes the relationship of author to reader unclear. He praises an obscure novel that he admits is very poorly written, and says that the novel was successful anyways. However, when it comes down to it, he criticizes many novels on their execution. He gets a bit more nuts and bolts and this is where I find his work interesting. I quoted an excerpt on Sartre in one of the comments here for a demonstration of that.
I still have to read Toni Morrison. I’ve heard that “Beloved” is to become a classic.
I wouldn’t even bother reading contemporary fiction, and I didn’t for a long time, but I feel out of the loop with my writer’s group. I guess I feel obligated to get acquainted with what’s going on now since I’m working on my own novel. But why? I haven’t considered my motives very closely!
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Very well put. 🙂
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The purpose of a novel? To entertain. Plain and simple.
Have you read Measuring the World: Danial Kehlmann.?
And a brilliantly satirical look at the world of publishing: The Great Pursuit: Tom Sharpe.
My current favorite novel: The Truth: Terry Pratchett.
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I haven’t read any of those. I checked out their descriptions and they all sound interesting. I have yet to read any fantasy/sci fi…I keep getting these recommended to me and just about everyone who comments on my posts reads them. I ordered a whole slew of them and they should be coming shortly.
Colin Wilson said he thought the future of “The Novel” was in sci-fi/fantasy, which is interesting. I’m eager to explore this genre.
A brilliant Science fiction author to start might be Brian Aldiss. His Helliconia Trilogy is masterful.
Good fantasy? We all have our favorites in this genre. For straight fantasy,Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series is mine.
I became an avid collector of various imprints for years!
Humorous fantasy it has to be Pratchett, no question.
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Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll have to check them out after I get through my first round of books which should be arriving soon.
I think a lot of us demaand more than mere entertainment. If that was all there was to reading why read books like War & Peace or Crime & Punishment etc etc?
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Crikey … Two and a half years! Talk about late to the party! *Smile*
Well, better late than never, I guess.
Yes,one can also learn from novels, but the primary reason is entertainment, surely? ( including the range of emotions that may accompany such a read.)
To be metaphorically carried away to different ”worlds” for a spot of vicarious living.
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I guess there are a lot of demands for the writer. I’d agree that the primary incentive for the reader is to be carried away to different worlds. We want to enter into a sort of dream, and most of us don’t want to work too hard. I don’t know if I’d call that dream pure entertainment, but if it’s not an entertaining novel, there’s not much incentive to keep reading. On the other hand, what counts as entertainment? Maybe that’s what we’re quibbling over….two and half years later.
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One of the best SF novels imo is A Case of Conscience by James Blish. Published in 1958 and still reads well today. Another with religious/theological themes is Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Wilson raved about David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus.
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Thanks for the recommendations!