Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is Time Always Good to Good Books?

I recently saw a headline: "Time Is Always Good to Good Books," and after hearing about a guy who's going to be reading the bestselling book of the year for all of the last 100 years, I seriously questioned the first statement. After all, it's not a bad assumption that the bestselling books would stand the test of time, and yet have they? Have you heard of The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright, If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson, Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton, or Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen? No? Me either. (And that last one was the bestselling book of the year for two years in a row!) Sadly, I don't think all books stand the test of time.

I read Peyton Place by Grace Metalious a couple of years ago, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, it's ability to shock was completely gone, and not just because I was prepared for shocking things. Times and mores have moved on but Peyton Place stands still in time.

Exodus by Leon Uris was dense and slow moving and very political for a novel. I don't know that it would be as popular with today's disappearing attention spans.

Wifey by Judy Blume was very much of its time, with sexual experimentation and fantasies that are pretty amusing these days. Not because they're tame, but because they were trying to say that to be fulfilled you must give in and be open to your wildest fantasies, and I think these days we pretty much think that's a bit too much. Ditto for Fear of Flying by Erica Jong which is equally dated for the same reasons. Sexual freedom isn't the only thing holding women back.

Kramer vs. Kramer by Avery Corman - this book actually was excellent, but the writing style is very out of style now - it's entirely told in passive voice, using no quotation marks, as if our narrator is a step removed from the events. It was awkward to read even though I loved the story itself.

I definitely think some books that are excellent and popular and read widely will fade in time. Some due to dated content, some to dated style, but not all great books stand the test of time. Not all of these I listed here are "great," but I think an argument can be made for all of them that they are very, very good, but have dropped out of the public zeitgeist. I wonder what current popular books will disappear in the next twenty years or so? I know which ones I hope will, but I wonder which ones readers a century from now will find bizarre. Do you have any ideas which books are too current to last?

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