Quick Hits: Literature and Literacy

Occasionally we will review books here. Sometimes it’s a non-fiction book, other times it’s a Science Fiction novel. Lately though, in my own personal reading I’ve tended to read the “classics” more than anything else. Whether it’s a SciFi novel from the “Golden Age” or the 70’s and 80’s, or Livy’s account of the War with Hannibal, I haven’t been drawn to contemporary writing or contemporary authors. Outside of the obvious issues like censorship, self-censorship, pandering to the most vocal outrage mob, most of the books and articles written today just seem derivative.

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Why read anything other than the classics? https://www.amazon.com/Duties-Guide-Conduct-Obligations-Decision-Making/dp/1534802258

Authors seem to be developing and advancing their own ideas much less than before. Instead, we get “takes” on a theory that is itself an idea of a classical work or classical idea. What do I mean by a classical work or classical idea? The Wealth of Nations would be a classic work on the classical idea of how wealth plays a role in nations, or just simply the classical idea of the economy and resource allocation. Has anyone written a tome that comes close to Smith’s classic in outlining, arguing and advancing original thought on economics? Marx came close, but even then Marx was derivative of Smith’s works, Kant’s and Hegel’s ideas. Every economist since then has just put their hat in or two camps and gamed the numbers in their favor. Don’t even get me started on the history field…

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I consider this book a classic. The series loses a bit of steam at the end, but the first two books are great reads.

Pick up a novel, and most are thinly veiled political arguments depicting one side as the harbinger of a new apocalypse, or, if you are lucky, just a re-tread of similar characters and plot lines from before. Are we supposed to believe that the latest Harry Potter incarnation is the epitome of high literature and creative character writing? Every so often a writer like Dan Simmons or Hiroshi Sakurazaka puts out something great and achieves commercial, mainstream success, but those examples are few and far between. Creative minds are restricted in the current publishing environment, but I do think there’s huge hope in the independent author arena… Just a lot out there and low quality control.

It’s a melancholic view of our current state of literature and academia, but I don’t think it’s an inaccurate one. We are a highly “literate” society, as in people can perform the basic function of reading, but we are not a high literature society. Instead, we focus more on what the latest outrage is or making sure we are marching in lockstep with our milquetoast, palatable culture, never thinking to sign our name next to a work that is daring in nature.

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