Million Dollar Baby

I read a news article today reporting on a million-dollar book contract just offered to a 17 year old woman in the UK.

The deal was for three books chronicling the adventures of a teenage girl who starts a kissing booth to make money.  The first book in the series is entitled (appropriately) The Kissing Booth.  She began writinthe kissing boothg the series through an online blog when she was 15.

What strikes me about all this is the quantity of cash being directed toward a 17 year old, destined to become a bestselling author.  I’m sure she is a bright and talented young woman with a great future ahead of her if the fame and fortune does not succeed in destroying her life along the way as it has so many unsuspecting youth in search of affluent significance.  But this brightness and talent is the light and capacity of a 17 year old.  And that can only take you so far.  No matter how gifted a person might be, literature reflects a deeper set of values (or lack of them) that cannot be manufactured by technique or obscured by an exciting storyline.  Quite frankly, it says a lot about the level of sophistication and intellect the average reader in our age desires to pursue.  And this is more than an indication.  It’s an indictment.

All of this fervor reminded me when a friend of mine excitedly told me about the Hunger Games book series and raved about how wonderful it was.  “I couldn’t put it down!” she gushed.

Always looking for a true classic in our time, I dutifully went out and purchased the books.  As I read, what struck me most was the sheer superficiality of the characters, the flippancy with which the books dealt in the ethics of children killing children, raw social oppression, a manufactured and insincere love triangle, and a host of other blaring moral deficiencies.  From a literary standpoint, the books seemed so childish, I could hardly imagine taking them seriously for more than an afternoon—about the time it took me to read each one.  What was the attraction?  What enduring value did these books engender besides a cleverly repulsive story line?

When I was in high school, we moaned and groaned about reading great novels and classic literature.  It seemed like an exercise in irrelevancy and futility, a waste of time and effort for everyone involved, especially given the inordinate amount of time and effort required to read and understand many of these classics.  Now I see more clearly how very wrong I was about such things.  Reading contemporary novels is like eating a Snickers bar.  It claims to really satisfy, but in the end, living on Snickers would send me to the hospital for nutritional emaciation and major heart bypass surgery all at the same time.  It requires time and effort to prepare an eight-course dinner, and each course can only be taken in small portions.  It’s the variety of flavors, smells, textures, colors and nutritional values that make the meal so magnificent and satisfying, versus a quick burst of flavor followed by a hollow bloated feeling deep inside.

I found over time that when I read Dickens, Lewis, Tolkien, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky–just to name few–I felt like I had been simultaneously fed and cleansed.  I had entered a mysterious, multi-layered universe where a single reading could hardly have scratched the surface of an almost unfathomable depth and breadth.  It was a ocean impossible to exhaust with new richness lurking not only around every twist and turn, but also right in front of me.  It was the difference between a child’s sketch of the ocean surface and diving into the glorious abyss headlong in order to enter a realm of existence which was richly indescribable and nearly inexhaustible.

Now granted, I understand that true classics are only written once in a very long while.  It is a blessed generation that gets to experience the birth of such a rare gem before their very eyes.  But why would anyone take the time and effort in our time to write such a book when they could be making millions off guttural trash and sophomoric plotlines?  It would take a rare genius with an independent source of funds and a heart set like flint against the temptations to “make a buck” and take the path of least resistance.  I must admit, I wish I had the time, talents, and treasures to achieve such a feat, not so much because it would make me rich and famous—but likely only after I was dead and gone—but also because it would also give me something worthwhile to read.

In the meantime, I will continue my search and revisit the classics again and again that I might find what I have been missing and aspire to that from which I continue to fall so spectacularly short.

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8 thoughts on “Million Dollar Baby

  1. Barbara Winkler

    Great article, Lewis! Classic literature does satisfy on many levels. Even if I don’t “get it” right away, it has a way coming back and getting me, in a good way.

    I’m glad to be married to a man of depth. Welcome to the world of cyber space. ‘Glad you’re blogging your deep thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Tim

    A voice crying in the wilderness. Hopefully your voice will not be blown away by desert winds : )
    Best book I’ve read recently (besides Hunger Games, of course) was Gilead, by M. Robinson. Check it out.

    Reply
  3. yohann injety

    Great article Lewis! and a beautifully stated point at that. Your literary prowess as a blogger belies your novice front. I suspect you’ve been a closet blogger for sometime!
    I look forward to the next post. Thank you sir

    Reply
  4. Robin

    Lew…you have written a wonderful and deep, albiet over my head, book!! I’m excited to follow your blog.

    Reply
  5. Jonner

    Your thoughts are shared to some extent, at least by me. I was unable to get past the first couple of chapters in the “Hunger Games.” However, I also have never written a novel length manuscript; so that author, and others, certainly have my respect for accomplishing that much.

    Concerning the lack of ethical concern in some novels, like the Hunger Games, I think it is often an attempt to make some moral point outside the scope of what the author is actually writing down. As I have not read the Hunger Games, I have no idea if this is the case, or if the author is, as you say, just glamorizing a stagnant pond.

    It is also a matter, I guess, of your taste in story lines, and subject matter. I myself enjoy a well written (or even a marginally written) horror novel every once in a while. I do not know if you are taking genre into consideration or not, as many science fiction themes include ethically questionable political and social situations. These examine societies which violate our standard ethics, in order to explore those ethics, or other situations which would be difficult to explore, without conceiving what it would be like to live in that type of community.

    C. S. Lewis in his “Abolition of Man” talks about the importance of using examples of writing that are well written, to compare to ones which aren’t, and how difficult that is. So I guess I am saying that the inferiority of the writing would bother me more than the ethics of children being forced to kill each other, as similar ideas are also in greatly written books, e. g. “Lord of the Flies.” If a story uses an arbitrary attempt to exploit violence to get ratings, then that is one thing, if it is addressing or using violence in a specific context, because the story calls for that to happen, then I think it is another.

    Just my two cents worth. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, thank you.

    Jonner

    ps. Not sure if your worrying to much about typos, seeing as this is only a blog, but I thought I’d point out a sentence in your third paragraph, “Now I see more clearly how very I was wrong about such things.” It may need an edit, I think.

    Reply

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