Thursday, November 19, 2009

Here to stay...

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Today’s question was suggested by Barbara: Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

I am not sure what qualities Barbara thinks give Dickens, Austen, and Bronte their status but I would say that, through a combination of insight, talent at telling an entertaining story about the big and constant forces in our lives, and the good luck of growing popular, they have endured. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reading Richard Powers's new novel. I think his fascinations are very much our current information-oriented obsessions and despite the fact that he is a terrific writer, I think most of his books will probably not endure. Margaret Drabble is compared to Woolf and Eliot in the introduction to The Needle's Eye. I can certainly see the Eliot comparison in her diction but I wonder if this picture of 1970s values will end up telling the story of a corner of the world that still exists in 100 years. It feels a limited world even though I am enjoying the story, and I am finding the narrative voice equivocal rather than authoritative. However, I could see at least one or two of the works of her sister A. S. Byatt enduring. I see the work of Bernard MacLaverty lasting, as I said when I read Cal. He tells a great story about the same kinds of things Shakespeare and Austen wrote about - strong passions personal and national. The kind of subjects that drive lives. In addition, Ireland has a great literary tradition and that movement will produce readers. I cannot see Philip K. Dick's books surviving as anything more than quaint relics. They haven't even really survived 35 years. I cannot see Harry Potter surviving more than a generation. They're entertaining, but their ache to be popular will, I think, be very transparent, their voices generic, and their characters nothing but cute in 20 years time. But I can see Stephen King survivng. He's an entertaining story teller and a combination of real specificity about the world he creates and the way he puts words together will probably keep readers up nights 100 years from now. I see Chaim Potok's work surviving as Austen's has because it builds with words a corner of the world most people don't know so that they can see and hear it. In that world he places a story any of us would know but, because its setting is so specific, we think its stories would be different from ours. His loving point of view is evident in his telling of the story. That is, as I am writing this, a key feature of the kind of writing I predict has staying power - papable point of view in a narrative voice. In fact, isn't that finally what gives great works their authority. Virginia Woolf's ecstatic liquid poet with a glint of irony. George Eliot's voice-over-of-god narrative voice - who would dare throw one of her books away? That narrator would reach out through the pages and command one to put her back on the shelf.

4 comments:

Barbara H. said...

You wondered what qualities I thought made a classic. I think you brought up several, but one is that there is something of truth and possibly beauty that resonate with us all these years later even though the times, language, customs, etc. are different.

Ted said...

B - Ah - good old truth and beauty. I think that's at its essence, certainly, but I wonder if what readers think is beautiful stays constant across the years or if the lasting books have enough great ingredients in them that they continue to be read, but for different reasons?

Teacherninja said...

I agree with Byatt, certainly. I think King, but I doubt in the way we think. Probably some short stories or perhaps his On Writing rather than all of his novels. But when I was a kid I would have never guessed that Sesame St. would still be on, so what do I know?

Ted said...

TN -Ha-ha. Interesting point about King. You may well be right and, as you said, what do we know!