Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Worst Bestsellers

I've noticed that back home, I am completely insecure about telling people about my love for writing. When they ask me what I'm going to do with my life - I never say I'm going to be a writer, because hey, writing isn't a job, it's just something rich people can do in their leisure time! Instead I say, oh.. well.. I'll probably get into advertising, go professional with my photography, lecture at a university when I can.

All I actually want to do, if I could have my way though, is write.

But the moment you open your mouth and tell your Auntie* 'I'm going to be a writer', you realize from the look on her face that what you've said makes no sense whatsoever to most people today. Writers and artists are bums in the 21st century, unlike centuries ago when art and literature flourished - today, in an industrial capitalist world, unless you have the right connections or you get very lucky, it's pretty tough to depend on your writing or art for a decent income. 

Oh wow you can sing, paint pictures and write stories? 

So then, the writer has to have a 'practical' back-up plan, because living off just producing literature as opposed to monotonous labour in a repetitive office system is 'impractical'. 

I guess the supporting myth behind all this anti-writer prejudice is that people think writing is easy. The work a writer does apparently just isn't as important, productive or as admirably sweat-inducing as say, the work of a doctor, engineer or businessman. These latter things involve contributing directly to the well-being of society and have the guarantee of a nice envelope of money at the end of the month. But what does a writer do? Writes books, that not everyone will even read, big deal itseems. And who is going to guarantee his or her success at the literary box office?  

What yall don't understand, Aunties, is that writers - the good ones - are creators of thought and discussion, that thought and discussion is what ultimately documents and develops the progress of mankind, that without the literature of human civilization we would have no record of human intellect or growth in any sector. The books that a doctor reads - whether fictional, whether medical, whether on any subject at all in fact, shape him as a person because everything begins with thought.

This shit is obviously way too complex for people to grasp however. They understand things in direct material results - SHOW ME THE MONAY - not in idealistic meanderings about 'intellect' and 'the growth of mankind'. Fair enough I guess. I don't know, sometimes I begin to think even the justifications I give smell like bullshit. Anyway, whatever the argument - how does a writer succeed?

And that's where I start talking about the subject of my title. Bestsellers - I don't understand them. Exhibit A: The Twilight Saga, Exhibit B: 50 Shades of Grey, Exhibit C: The Alchemist. These three examples of bestsellers are totally random, and after having studied them, have made me even more nervous and insecure about being a writer. Mainly because I didn't find these books well written. So what the hell makes a bestseller? I don't even know anymore.

Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist wasn't so great, if you ask me. It's a lot of repetitive 'connect to the Soul of the World' and 'speak the Language of the Universe' and you know, 'send positive vibes into the universe and it will guide you with signs', 'blah blah I'm a big hippie'. It's a story about a shepherd boy with a passion for travel who finds hidden treasure that he dreamt about - an allegory about 'going after your dreams'. It felt cliched to me and didn't offer anything new; I won't remember it in a month. Then there's Stephanie Meyer's The Twilight Saga and Twilight-fan-fiction-induced 50 Shades of Grey - both obviously of the same category, which are basically the same plot: there's this sad young girl who lacks the looks and the talent - but for some unfathomable reason, this Adonis of a man who is ridiculously good looking and god-like falls madly in love with the girl, and the whole book just features awkward sexual tension between them and some nauseating 'oh bby i luv u' stuff. Needless to say the books most appeal to middle aged women and adolescent girls, who are given hope that despite the total inanity of their lives and their boring personalities, one day some 500 year-old hot vampire just might appear out their window and declare his undying love to them. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if your book becoming a bestseller is by definition 'success' - and this is the kind of stuff one has to write today in order to be successful - then... I'm either gonna be broke or am gonna have to start work on a story featuring a sparkly vampire and a girl with all the personality of a spoon. 

Aiyo Auntie, maybe you were right after all. 

*Auntie - n. Middle-aged female member of the extended family who has an opinion about everything and has been vested with the divine privilege of passing judgment on anyone when she sees fit. Often seen rolling her eyes or exclaiming 'aney, this child!' or making delicious savoury items. 

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