As the “Hunger Games” film hits theaters this week, I have to vent for a second. Once—just once!—I would love it if someone would recommend a book to me that was not originally intended for a 14-year-old girl.
Watching people read on the”L,”I can only conclude that adults have entirely given up reading anything not written for young women who still secretly think they’re going to marry Justin Bieber.
I say this not as a total literature snob. This is not a direct broadside against the “Hunger Games,” “Twilight” or any other book series. I guilty-pleasure read all the time. Hell, I even read Dean Koontz novels, in which every main character has the exact same hyper-intelligent dog (don’t ask, and don’t read Dean Koontz). I just find it aggravating that our culture has almost entirely abandoned the pretense that it’s going to read a book written above a sixth-grade reading level.
My friend Scott calls this the complete “Tweenization” of culture. In our fractured media environment, 14-year-old white girls are the only consumer block passionate and devout enough to make any particular musician, novel or TV show explode in popularity. As different and older demographics take notice of these phenomena, they gather momentum in a severe feedback loop and suddenly college-educated adults are recommending clumsily written hackfests that are essentially rip-offs of a couple Stephen King novellas from the mid-80s (“The Long Walk” and “The Running Man”—look ‘em up).
Again, this is not to say everyone has to carry around “Notes From the Underground,” but can we at least acknowledge that people are becoming dumber, less-engaged readers and that this does not bode well for the future of the most important narrative form?
I remember getting into a massive fight with a once-girlfriend about Dan Brown after she implored me to read”The Da Vinci Code,” which is reason enough to break up with anyone. I spent that entire book wondering if “Dan Brown” was a fourth-grader who for some reason never had access to a thesaurus.
As tweets and Facebook posts become our predominate form of literature, explain to me why it won’t be more and more rare that people pick up a book that just floors them. I mean the kind of book that makes you glad to be alive. A book that’s like adding an entirely new wing to your brain. I remember the first time I read those books: “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, “Black Boy” by Richard Wright, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov,”The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.
A novel is like no other artistic form. A film ends after two hours. Music sits in the background. Even the greatest painting disappears into the wall after you look at it long enough. But you have to live with a novel. You have to spend time with it and give it your attention. When you’re reading a brilliant book, it’s like you lend a part of yourself to it.
Having said all that, readers should look forward to my upcoming novel, “VampBieber Games.” It’s Justin Beiber fighting vampires for 300 pages. I’m going to make a billion dollars.