Sunday, March 9, 2014

3 reasons why the novel is more imortant than ever, On the Saturday Evening blogPost, edition #17

The novel is not the exclusive domain of good writing; I have seen well-written words on tweets, blog posts, pins, bathroom walls, carved into the bark of beech trees, and scrawled on bits of used envelopes. But there is something about the novel--something we are losing. Consider this quote from English teacher extraordinaire and novelist Conrad Tuerk:

...as a high school English teacher, I have seen firsthand (social media's) insidious effects on today's youth.  Not only are their language skills poor, but they lack the attention spans to sit quietly with a novel and ponder its depths.  The same point you make about the novel can be made for long form journalism.  It gives substance to short news bytes and allows for critical investigation.

Depth, substance, richness: These are just three of the attributes of the novel. I suspect you will be able to build that list from your own experience as a novel reader; allow me to add from mine. Consider the following three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, The Power and the Glory.

If you have not read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, pick up your Kindle, grab your Nook, type Amazon into your browser, or--best yet--go to your local library or book store. In his iconic work, Greene portrays a man's journey to sainthood, a journey which leads him through neither joy nor self-satisfaction, but rather through self-loathing and despair. It would be quite impossible to construct such a tale in any form other than the novel. You can do a lot with 140 characters--but even Greene needed 222 pages (in the Penguin Classics edition) to get the job done.

The Lord of the Rings has been called everything from an extended allegory of Jesus Christ to the best motion picture in the history of film. I call it the best novel of all time, in that it has everything a novel should have: memorable characters, a riveting story, good prose and dialogue, and meaning. I will add that it is neither concise nor simplistic. Consider this: Tolkien created at least 18 different languages, complete with vocabulary and rules of grammar, including the 12 different tongues spoken by Men in three ages, and the languages of Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Mordor, called the Black Speech, which shall not be uttered here. Think of the complexity and labor involved in writing a work which involved making up 18 different languages--and please don't think this process was only incidental to the writing. Tolkien himself, in one of his many letters, wrote: 'The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.' Try making up 18 different languages in 140 characters.

What more can a reviewer say about To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic tale of race relations in the Deep South; ranked above the Bible by the Association of British Librarians as the book to read before you die. (And those British Librarians know their stuff.) Somewhere around my fortieth year, my wife discovered I had never read Mockingbird and so she gave it to me as a birthday gift. And so I read the book and found out what all the British Librarian buzz was about. Much has been said about the book and I won't simply re-write it (plus, it's a blue-sky day and Maria and I need to go skiing). But I will add something: Attitcus Finch--who is not a real person--made me want to be a better person. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired generations of Americans--not to mention scores of British Librarians--to be more just, more open-minded and more courageous. I don't know of many #tweets that have done that.

Thanks again for your patience and stamina--please note I did not fall when I got off my soapbox. For fans of The Intern, Chapter 4, A Walk in the Park, is published and ready to read. Please don't be put off by #Wattpad, it takes only a minute to join. If you like the story, please follow me so you can get the updates automatically, and don't forget to cast your vote--Democracy depends on it. And Thanks again to the Association of British Librarians.

For those of you who haven't seen my website recently, check it out:
Peter Hogenkamp