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Cafe Doom  |  General Discussions  |  General Discussion  |  Standards - a few questions
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Offline delboy

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Standards - a few questions
« on: January 25, 2010, 06:46:41 AM »
Following on from the Susan Hill thread I reckon a discussion on standards would be quite interesting. We all agreed, on that thread, that standards are important. So how are we doing in this regard? Are standards in fiction improving?

If not, who's to blame? Is it the publishing companies who would rather guarantee a profit by publishing ghost-written novels by celebrities rather than by an unknown graduate with a first in Literature and a vast knowledge of difficult books? Or is it the readers who buy such books, who keep books with no characterisation and ridiculous plots at the top of the best-selling lists? Is it the bookshops who promote specific books? The booksellers who choose which books to push?

There again, maybe the ghost-writers have firsts in literature and if I were to actually read one of these books would I discover a classic? Is my prejudice against celebrity books colouring my own awaremess of improving standards?

You could ask, what's the purpose of fiction. Is it to entertain or is to shed light on the human condition? If it's the first then are the standards different to the latter? Is it about story-telling or is it about writing? If it's about both are we talking double standards or two different standards? Are we comparing apples to oranges? Is it akin to comparing the skills of someone who plays the oboe in a professional orchestra to that of someone who programmes drum and basslines for hit records?

How do we measure standards in the arts, specifically writing? Is it a monetary value based on number of sales? Hill was keen to use the amateur v professional argument. So does it follow that the highest paid professionals are producing the highest standard of work? It probably does if you're an accountant... So why are the Sunday papers full of reviews of literary, rather than popular, books? Why review books of such a sub-financial standard?

If it's not a financial measurement (and clearly I'm playing Devil's advocate when I suggest it is), what is it? We all know what we like? Are standards a personal thing? One man's Da Vinci Code is another man's War and Peace... is mastery of the modern best-seller requirements just as difficult as mastering the art of complex sentence structure and deep characterisation? Is one skill any more valuable and highly thought of (and sought after) than the other?

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Offline Grillmeat

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Re: Standards - a few questions
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2010, 09:34:55 PM »
Wow.....

Not sure I can speak to the issue of whether or not standards have risen or fallen, but in terms of the first question I think that the public bears a fair amount of blame(?) for much of our best selling literature. Book publishers, like movie makers and music sellers put out what people want to see, read and hear.  I don't subscribe much to the theory that there is a conspiracy to supress originality. If it sold, then these groups would put it out there.  I am certainly guilty of this. I read what I like and what I like sometimes resembles a chocolate sunday instead of a filet mignon.
As to the idea of whether or not fiction is meant to entertain or shed light on the human condition, I think that's an apples to oranges argument.  Fiction can ( and should) do both IMO but I think there is room for both kinds. I have read Shakespeare and Chaucer and  I love Robert E. Howard. I have read a library full of 17th-18th century American Lit. and I love Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.  I don't think one type of literature is better than another or that there is room for only one.
Sadly, I think standards are based on what sells so money ends up being, for many, the bar that determines success or failure. As to why the Sunday paper reviews books of literary books, I think they are speaking to a certain audience. It may be a smaller audience than in years past but it is still there.  Also, who is to say that the audience is all that small for this type of book. Perhaps, like moderates in politics, you are dealing with a group of people who do not speak all that loudly <shrug>.
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