As usual, there were a lot of disturbing trends to note in last Sunday’s newspapers. Let’s skip the small stuff, such as the increasingly common misuse of “but,” “though” and “nevertheless” by reporters and public relations writers, and instead look first at a weird bit of “celebriosis,” and then at a long-term trend that has put serious literature on life support.
Celebriosis is the disease that makes editors want to connect a celebrity to every trend or cause, and Parade Magazine has had an advanced case of it for decades. The issue dated September 4, 2009 is dedicated to helping people find a job, including articles on how to ace an interview and features on five people who were “winners” in the job market.
The expert on job-seeking whom Parade put on the cover and who reminisced at length about his own job search was neither an economist nor a human resource professional, but Jay Leno. Jay tells a few anecdotes, from which jobseekers and our nation’s youth can learn two lessons:
- Work for free (which Jay did to get a job at a car dealership)
- Work two jobs and save all your money from one of them. (Hidden message –you need to work two jobs to save).
Jay, and I call him Jay because after he bared his job-seeking soul I now feel as if I know him like a brother (sic), had the space in his 500-word pep talk for the unemployed to shill at great length for his new TV show.
Now to a trend in serious literature and poetry, which I believe is one of leading causes behind the growing disinterest in the literary arts. The center spread—the absolute middle of the magazine—of the New York Times book review contained two reviews of recent fiction:
- The Anthology by Nicholson Baker, about a man writing an introduction to a book of poetry.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez about an editor.
The trend of course is to make writers, writing, teachers and editors the central subject of a novel or a poem. If you peruse any literary journal, at least 10% of the poems are about poetry and poets, and in another 10-20%, the poet reminds the reader that the narrator is a real person who is a poet. Writing about the writer infected the novel decades ago.
- Anyone can write about him or herself. It’s so much more challenging to write about other people.
- I’m a little tired of the inherent navel-gazing that writing about writers and writing involves.
- Since it’s been done to death, it’s akin to replowing farmland of which the soil has been depleted decades ago. That usually yields a scrawny and inedible harvest, which pretty much describes most poetry and fiction these days.
- It turns off readers, although when I mention that notion to my friends who write poetry, they say that only writers are reading literature nowadays. How depressing, but even if it were true, why not try to write beyond your audience? Why not try pushing your audience, as Joyce or Stevens and virtually all writers who are remembered and read after their death have always done?
The reviewer of the Baker book said the reason he liked it was because instead of making the novel about some first-paragraph straw man—hokey stories about poets—, this one is “actually about poetry.” I would prefer if instead it were about some aspect of the human condition.