World Book Night. I watched on tv, and the only part I enjoyed was the hour with Sue Perkins. The rest was the usual stodgy stuff about literary novels that often, as so many people agreed, may be full of beautifully crafted sentences but don’t have a plot.
Sue admitted to spending her life reading literary novels, and claimed her favourite was Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Bombarded by the BBC with a selection of bestsellers from the last fifty years, she began to feel that she wasn’t at all well read and pursued interesting interviews with several best selling authors including Ian Rankin, Felix Francis, Joanne Harris, Lee Child, and others.
I have to admit that as an English Lit graduate, I haven’t read all the classics. I did read Crime and Punishment, but beyond the general premise of committing murder and feeling guilty, I don’t recall much of it. The same with Oblomov, who stayed in bed all day. War and Peace is still waiting, and may go on waiting. Anna Karenina I enjoyed.
All it really means is that I am still discovering novelists like Wilkie Collins and Stevenson's peculiar episodic adventures like The Black Arrow. My Sony reader gives me access to the classics for free (or a very small fee) and it is illuminating to read the old classics now, when I’m attempting my own (coughs delicately) epic.
The last segment of WBN on tv was a group of five people who got together to decide which twelve novels by newly published authors would make the grade. (Since none of them were known to me, I wasn't overly moved by their reasoning.) The novels were all literary (as opposed to potential bestsellers), and when the fifty were whittled down to 12, the panel agreed that many of them showed distinct signs of Creative Writing School rules. (Evidently there are now some 200 courses available around the country.) Flashbacks and other stylistic features abounded and one judge declared regretfully that out of the 50, he couldn't recall a single novel whose storyline travelled in a straight line from A to B to the end.
One has to wonder if creative writing schools are going to kill the creative instinct rather than nurture it.