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The Dog Ear: Contemporary authors matter

By Alyssa McDonagh
On February 18, 2013

During one of my classes last week, my professor asked who today's great American author is. There was dead silence before someone offered up Cormac McCarthy. Only four people in a lecture of 100 had heard of him. Someone else suggested Dan Brown. Only about eight people had read "The Da Vinci Code." I was shocked. In my mind, McCarthy is a very well-known American author, and I read "The Da Vinci Code" years ago. Neither are new, so for so few students to have experienced their writing was quite surprising. For me, they are symbols of modern American literature. From my observations, many people's symbol of American literature is shrouded by their lack of knowledge of today's literary world.
We are college students living in a world filled with academia and our peers. You would think books would be discussed fairly often. This blindness wasn't always the case. We know of Ernest Hemingway's and F. Scott Fitzgerald's fame in the 1920s, J.D. Salinger in the 1950s and Harper Lee in the 1960s. While our knowledge of these authors comes mostly from English classes, they were extremely popular in their eras. We can name authors from the past but naming contemporary authors is a struggle. We know the top songs on the radio and the movies in theaters. Why don't we know what books are the latest on the shelves?
This week's newsletter showed the difference between books and other aspects of our culture. Carol Fitzgerald, the president of the company, wrote, "I heard this week that 'Do No Harm' was cancelled; it had 'a paltry 3.1 million viewers.' This made me laugh; if there were 3.1 million readers of a book, there would be an endless stream of press articles about it as a smashing success instead of it being dashed into disgrace."
Imagine if books were discarded because of lack of readership. We wouldn't be left with many books and the ones we would be left with would be "Twilight" fan fiction. "Fifty Shades of Grey," I'm referring to you. Quality literature and peoples' interest in it is fading fast.
We have become a society that is focused on watching images on screens instead of allowing images to be formed in our minds from words. In my opinion, it is important to know what is going on in the world in terms of news and pop culture. However, most news doesn't seem to include books. Many of today's movies and TV shows are based off of novels, showing the impact they have beyond the literary scope. People may feel weighed down when they read page after page in a book, but without good writers to write screenplays for movies and scripts for TV shows, there wouldn't be any. The basis for everything stems from the ability to write and to write well. This is why we need to enlighten ourselves and acknowledge the work that is going unnoticed in the book industry.

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