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Are Classic Writers Better Than Modern Writers? - Op-Ed Piece


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We got a writing tip today, and a question about classic writers

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Writing Tip

Write simple sentences.

Think of Shakespeare’s line, “To be or not to be?” famous for its brevity and the way it quickly describes a character’s toiling over their own life. Then think of all those times you parody that line. "To eat or not to eat?" "To work or not to work?" "To cut across two lanes of traffic to get off that exit to get home quicker, or not t cut across two lanes of traffic to get home quicker?" (See how simple sentences are best at times.) There is a time and place for bigger words and denser text, but you can get story points across in simple sentences and language. Try using succinct language when writing, so that every word and sentence has a clear purpose. Also keep in mind that the larger the words you use, the more likely that your audience may not know those words. It can happen, is all I am saying.


Are Classic Writers Better Than Modern Writers? - Op-Ed Piece

If there is one thing that seems to make readers of this blog and any blog, happy it's the notion that this blog of literary memes and op-ed pieces actually talks about books. I mean, sure, sometimes we go on a rant or two about a sitcom or a popular character from a show, but that is only with our writing hats on. We, bloggers here, rarely ever look at something without the writer's mentality in mind. That is a mindset that we try to get rid of and throw in the trash, for even we get tired of it after a while. Sometimes we even try to recycle it (we're sure there is a garbage bin around the office for that stuff), but then we just turn that digression into a short story about a merchant who can't die and call it a night.

Whenever someone, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, or that random stranger on the street, hears us talking of books, they jump up and down in joy as if they won the gold medal. I am worried for some of you too. Don't jump too much, dude; you are going to pull a muscle. Our blog's news dedicated to the written word is like I gave them a check for something. I didn't, though. Sorry, I know. I wish I was giving out checks to everyone too. (I could become like Publisher's Clearing House and have people think I give out checks, but I don't really. What? Am I the only one who thinks that is a scam? Eh, anyway) There is one strange thing about mentioning books to that stranger online or in person; people seem to like a certain kind of book. They are ecstatic over what they perceive to be the blog giving them a selection of books that they themselves like. No, I am not talking about genre or even a theme here, but a time period that the books were written.

Readers seem to like classic writers more than modern writers. Why?

Let's first define what we are talking about when we say classic. Classic is a pain in the ass word since what is great today is a classic tomorrow, so in order for you to know the classics, you also need to know the recent stuff since that becomes a classic over time. Then you have layers to the classics, which just makes it more confusing. (We end up having the old classics, the modern classics, the old modern classics, the modern old classics, and the classics that you didn't realize were classics. All so we can identify the stuff that we actually like and prefer to read in our spare time during lunch or after work.) Classic rock did this when they decided one day that bands like Nirvana and Green Day, who were not considered rock when they first came on the scene (they were grunge and alternative), were converted to classic rock. They weren't rock when I was growing up with teen spirit and a basketcase, but now they are. And the DJs are still baffled by their inclusion as if they don't know that the list of classic rock, like any classic list, will evolve to add more classic stuff.

"And next on our playlist, we will play another classic rock song, Basketcase by Greenday." The DJ says to his audience. "Boy, I can't believe that is a classic rock song. I remember first hearing that song and being blown away by the first lines."

Let's keep in mind that when we are discussing anything like a classic, the category of a classic is subjective.

For this article, when I am discussing the modern classic writer, I mean someone who wrote novels between the 1800s to the mid-1950s. I choose this era for reasons that are to become clear. I am not talking classics like Plato and his dialogues or Homer and his epics. No one seems that impressed by those guys. Even when I bought a collection of Plato from Barnes and Noble, the cashier looked at me confused as if she was surprised I found the book, and then I bought it. Like I didn't know there were other books in the store. We all like to talk indirectly about these ancient classics but not them specifically. We enjoy talking about the Oedipus Complex, especially since we all seem very interested in the attraction of an older woman, or we will watch movies that are inspired by the Allegory Of The Cave and don't even take place in a cave. But we rarely bring up the original texts themselves. For this argument, I am not including those writers. Yes, even my guy Homer is not to be mentioned here. I know; I already feel like this article is a lost cause. I have accomplished my writing task of mentioning Homer for no apparent reason, though, so this article still has a chance.

Note: No, I am not going to give you a random fact about Homer's stories here. Normally I would, but I won't. Sorry, this piece is about modern classics, so I will keep my promise not to bring up Homer.

Although maybe Homer is a modern classic writer. You know there was a reprint of his books during the years 1800-1950, so that could still qualify him as one, right? Yeah, and The Beatles are a 2000's band for releasing their Number One's album in that year.

The modern classic novelist is who I am talking about here. And that author, from the 19th century to the middle of the 19th, is doing great with the readers. Their books are still very much of the public consciousness. We love those guys and girls, and we can't get enough of their books. Bookstores have caught on to this, too, because they now have multiple versions of the same author's stories. You can buy three different books featuring Hemingway's A Clean Well-Lighted Place because we can't get enough of writers like him.

I am asking here, why? Why is it that when I mention books, people instantly think I am talking about a classic novelist and even a book that they read? No one ever assumes that I am going over the modern bestsellers and the publishing industry's direction. In fact, some of them may be disappointed if that was what I did. They suggest that I examine the books of a different time, as something they would prefer.

Perhaps this whole train of thought is not as much of a problem as I deem it. Perhaps this is very easy to answer, as a test with a cheat sheet. The writers back then were, to put bluntly, better. They knew more words and had a more profound vocabulary. They wrote more stories with more interesting characters. They were simply better at the craft of writing. Writing is a form of art, like that of singing or painting, and these certain individuals may have had more of a knack for it than others. Over time the readers have acknowledged and accepted this, so when the field is discussed, many assume we are talking of the best, who all just so happen to be from the same time period.

You can make the same case for the Renaissance artists being more well-liked than artists of other ages for no other reason than they had more talent. Sure modern art with Picasso and Warhol are nice and all. (I like how diverse Picasso was with all of his work. Each piece felt like something different. Personally, I was never impressed by the Campbell Soup guy, and I am still not impressed by those of that era. Comparing the David to a painting of Marilyn Monroe seems wrong) When we think of art, we think of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel that depicts the story of Genesis, or DaVinci's Mona Lisa, with its mysterious figure that some say make her feel alive. Those guys were just better at what they were doing than the modern artists. They knew more stuff. They had better tools. This is not to say that the people like Picasso or Warhol don't hold a special place in our hearts for the contribution to the field, but it does mean that when a person has to identify what a painting looks like, they don't instantly think of modern art, but of a Renaissance painting.

Could this really be the case with literature? If it is, then we all have to decide on how a society with less information produced people capable of being better storytellers and writers. What did they do right in order to produce this effect on so many of us? With the growth of technology in the world, then we should be in a Golden Age of stories, as many writers have better materials available to them than writers of the past. We should be drowning with all the all-time great authors we produce, but we aren't. (Or at least, no one thinks we are) So what gives?

People like Poe, with his horrors, more than the current bestseller. More people read Austen, and her lovers, than a recent release. Readers are more than happy to spend time with Dickens and his down and out heroes than a recommended book. Is the modern writer, with their laptop and the internet, really inferior in their skill than those who used nothing more than a typewriter and books that they researched? I thought we were all reading more. I thought modern humans were smarter than our predecessors? How can we claim to be more advanced yet not capable of producing better storytellers than those of our past?

One interesting note with this is Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville, whom I have mentioned before here. Would it be written of in the same fashion if he wrote it today? I don't know. I'm not sure how many readers would be happy to read an encyclopedic novel about a man trying to kill a whale. Then again, the book wasn't a hit in Melville's lifetime, so maybe this is a bad example. I still say that because Melville lived when he did, that is why he wrote the book the way it was. There was no Internet then. No Wikipedia. No Sparknotes. So the classic writer did the only reasonable thing; by making his own version of the internet in the book. At the time, that is not what Melville would have said he was doing, but as time went by and the internet was invented, we learned of the genius of the whole book. He wrote it so that you, or anyone, could pick up the novel and understand all that you needed to know about the whaling world and the characters involved without referring to another book.

I don't know if I buy the idea that the modern world is too much for a modern writer. Yeah, I know I already wrote of the internet destroying literature, but this is different. How many of us think that the world is too fast? We are all doing so much, going from place to place at such a speed that ludicrous speed is not fast enough. Not to be that guy, but did any of you ever stop to think who it is that is telling you that the world is faster than ever? A promotion for an item is telling you that the world you live in is more demanding than any before it. How can you not live without this handy item, which just so happens to be something that someone who lives in a demanding world needs? They lied to you. And we all bought it. They created anxiety in us as consumers, so that we bought their product. The idea that the world is too much to keep up with is nothing more than a marketing idea, not a world philosophy that many of us treat it as. We all act like there was a guy like Karl Marx going around talking of the fast world we are in, but that wasn't the case. This general idea has become accepted over time due to the increased exposure to television and media. You could say that the TV and media had a manifesto in their own right that we all watched and learned. Now we are all convinced that the world is too damn fast for us and that we just can't keep up. Yeah, right, as we all binge-watch shows and waste time on social media, and do the bare minimum that our boss asks us to do. The world is really demanding, even though we all spend half of our time doing nothing productive. Maybe, just maybe, that idea of the world being fast was a lie.

This is similar to what the cellphone industry did to us all, and we all bought it (literally). You need a cell phone to live. They would tell everyone. Without it, you can't function in this world. What are you if you don't have one? Do you not realize how bad this world can be for you if you don't have a cell phone? And what do we all do? Buy cell phones only to post food pictures and play a mindless mobile game. Still, need that cell phone? Of course, you do, you fool. Cause now you are addicted to it. You can't live without it, and you are checking it every 15 minutes of the day, and the cell phone industry gave you a self-fulfilling prophecy. They lied about their product being needed for everyone to live. Everyone bought the product to live. The product became something that many can't live without.

You say that the world is more complicated and crazy than the world that the classic writers lived in. Because that is what you observe, not because there is someone selling you a product and repeating that to you on your TV, cell phone (that you now check every few seconds), and your laptop. I disagree with this idea that the writers had no competition or other fields that wanted to beat them back then—pretending as if the writers of the past didn't live in a society where people were interested in things other than books in laughable. What, do we think that everyone back then sat in a room and read quietly? I mean, didn't they have music back then? Songs that everyone sang along to and loved? Oh, they did. That's funny cause how everyone speaks of the past today; I didn't know. You say that they had other forms of entertainment then too? Like plays and shows? (Okay, they didn't have TV, and movies were in their infancy, I'll give you that) But didn't they have plays written by Shakespeare, and isn't he the best playwright ever? So the modern classic writer had to compete with that.

Let's stop pretending as if guys like Poe, Austen, and Dickens didn't have things that distracted their audience. They did. Don't give anyone that much credit. The people back then got as much distracted as we did today. It may not have been with a phone or a laptop, but it was definitely something that kept their attention while they should have been working. As long as stories were being told, the speaker had to deal with the problem of the disinterest in the people. That problem is around today, as it was in the past, and it will never go away. The most difficult problem for a storyteller is to get people to stay around long enough to actually hear or read their tale.

Could modern classic writers be the more well-liked cause that is who we all read growing up and when our endorphins are at their best? Endorphins are the things that our bodies release for pleasure. If we like something, like a song, or a picture, we release them; it's our body's way of saying, "I like this." If we are all exposed to the classic modern writers when our endorphins are at their highest (in our teens), then it is only natural that we think of those people when we think of books. They are the ones that helped us release the most pleasure, so we think that they are the best. That is a possibility, I suppose.

Personally, I think a few things came together (like The Beatles) for this unusual circumstance to even happen.

  • There had to be a place for it to happen. – For the most part, these writers are American and British, and both had their own reason. Britain produced the best writer ever, and they have a rich history of producing great stories. America was a democracy, so that meant that many writers in the nation were free to write whatever they wanted. British writers were drawing on the best that the world could offer, as the American writers had a level of freedom unprecedented for a developed country.

  • There had to have been a large population growth – In 1800, America's population was 5 million. In 1950, it was 160 million. This means there are more people to read the books, but more importantly, it gives a higher probability that there is a genius among these people, someone who can write a great novel. We end up getting six or seven times as many great writers because we have more people to pick from.

  • There had to have been a technological advancement to help spread the books – The Industrial Revolution certainly helped the writers of that time, in that it gave people more free time, which could be used for entertainment, and that includes books. These writers are a part of the largest growth in the middle class in human history; that certainly helped their appeal.

Does this explain it, though? From 1950 to today, the population has doubled, and we have the internet today, so what is the reason that a certain time period in history produced many of the greatest writers of all time.

One major difference between today and the time period I am talking about may explain the contrast in skill. The novel was new then, so the writers went wherever they wanted to go with it. There were no rules of the novel, like screenplays and poems. Then again, you can say that the self-published book has accomplished this today. So what the hell is going on?

Why do readers like classic writers more than modern writers?

Honestly, I am speculating here. I don't know why modern readers like classic writers more than modern writers. It could be that those people were better. We associate the classic stories with the release of a chemical we had in abundance as a teenager, or it could be a combination of certain things that happened in that time period. At the end of the day, we just don't know.



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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.


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