By Sonakshi Srivastava
The debate between paperbacks and e-books is now old news. As much as we love reminiscing about the good old days which we'd spend in the library, we still prefer binge-watching a show in the limited leisure time we get daily. We have immersed ourselves in work so much that we hardly get time for leisure. When we do, it's rather spent on Netflix or in the company of friends. We then blame ourselves for not doing anything productive. But that is life. In today's day and age, we rarely devote ourselves to reading lengthy novels. I feel ashamed sometimes, when I look at my bookshelves, and notice the numerous unread books calling out to me. I have unfinished e-books as well, waiting to reach the finish line. In this fast-paced life, somewhere, we've forgotten how to enjoy when reading a book. In the quest for quick entertainment, we are hungry for art that can be consumed without putting in efforts. Hence why in this era, knowledge is wider with minimum words.
Literature as we know, is evolving constantly. Passing through ages, it has grown exponentially and remains dynamic till date. Today, literature has become a modern day art form. It's being restructured to accommodate the younger generation. People, mostly children, have less attention spans. For them, a Jane Austen novel will look like a task. Forget classics, even Murakami or Coelho books will seem daunting. Long drawn out sentences, never ending paragraphs and detailed long descriptions won’t be appreciated by today’s gen. Somehow, ‘Cybernetic reading’ is displacing linear, closed and solitary reading. It has transformed the whole process of literary reading. People today are continuously exposed to inter- textual ties and virtual lies of mass media. Few witty words here, few catchy slogans there, and boom! You’re in.
Modern media has taken over the dance floor too. With SMS, room has been created for quotations and couplets. 140 characters now make for a good short story. Flash fiction and micro fiction are now the new studs of the literature world. Everyone is attracted to them – because they’re smartly composed, creative pieces of work, and easy to handle!
A new emerging trend is ‘the six word novel’. Yep, six words only. One might argue that a sentence/phrase can’t be equated to a novel. But hear me out. Six words might seem too less, but if you can tell a story, what’s the harm? This kind of writing is definitely challenging and creative. It may be easy to write a long, narrative and detailed novel, but writing a novel by using just six words requires creativity. A century ago, no one would have thought of writing a novel in six words. Dickens might be definitely turning in his grave. Six word novels leave the reader curious and thoughtful. The meaning is also left to the reader’s interpretation. It requires a lot of creativity and imagination, which is why it is not everyone’s cup of tea. “After she died, he came alive” by Rebecca James and “One gun, two shots, three dead” by Marcy are examples of a six word novel. Interesting, isn’t it?
We are in the era, where we are closer to the concept of the “Death of the Author”, as propounded by Roland Barthes. The text now has more and more ‘gaps’ that makes it more ‘readerly’ than more 'writerly'. Blogging sites are now paving way for writer sites. Popular global forums for upcoming and amateur authors, such as Wattpad and LitNet, are becoming a huge success. The stories posted by people of all ages are now being converted to screenplays for Netflix shows and movies. It’s also amazing to see the fan-fiction wave, take the form of a gigantic tsunami wave, ready to hit the literary shores.
Just like flash fiction, its brother Twitter fiction is emerging as well. Original, self-contained works of fiction in each tweet published by Twitter users, is known as Twitter fiction. It’s classified into certain new literary genres, and are then given new names by combining the name of the original genres with Twitter. Therefore, we now have Twillers (thrillers), Twaiku (haiku) and Twistories or Twisters (short stories). Twitter has come about as a revolution, taking Tumblr and Reddit along with it. As an expression of post-modern literature, it shares characteristics of micro-fiction (printed), such as brevity, multiple meanings etc.
With such innovative and tech-savvy variants, literature as an art form is being re-altered. It has become more diverse, more accommodating, and more spontaneous. It quenches your thirst for knowledge in small doses, without taking up much of your time. These forms are gaining popularity day by day, slowly yet steadily. Because of its social nature, anyone and everyone can be a writer. There is no longer a sense of inferiority among people, for there are less barriers in terms of who gets to publish what in the literary world.
But, every change brings its own glory and doom. Literary purists are of the view that internet sensations like flash fiction are tarnishing the image of the art of literature. They believe that such shortcuts give rise to abuse of language and superficiality. These are informal and free form styles of writing. They often neglect grammatical errors, use incorrect vocabulary and have little respect for the great works in the world of literature from which many of them copy. It triggers the grammar nazi in me for good! These forms of writing are shorter than short stories, flashier than flash fiction and now have become more Twititure. For e.g. on Twitter, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger is: “Rich kid thinks everyone is fake except for his little sister. Has breakdown.” ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen has become: “Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.” Dante’s ‘Inferno’ is boiled down to: “I’m having a midlife crisis. Lost in the woods. Should have bought my iPhone.”
Don’t even get me started on Facebook and Instagram poetry. Wordsworth and Frost must be ready to haunt those who distort the forms and styles of poetry more than they should. Language has been degraded, along with vocabulary, form and conventions of writing too. People seem to have forgotten basic rules of grammar. It pains me to no end when I see ridiculous pieces of work on the net which are passed off as literature. Our fast-paced lives are short-lived for the literary world. No longer do people want to learn the details of any book, its grammar maybe or even poetry! Somehow, ‘classics’ are now deemed old fashioned and boring. Anything that is short and interesting, is definitely worth spending time on, for today’s generation. We want to know everything NOW. Nobody cares if it’s missing a comma or a letter, or that it lacks depth and research. It’s sad to see the originality fade away into history.
Earlier, people used to maintain diaries, and more so, write regularly. But now it has been forgotten in the past. Its modern equivalent is the status updates on social media. Stories are full with random quotes, flash fiction pieces, free verse poetry etc. Reliving memories through Facebook and other networking sites is a lot easier. Uploading pictures on Facebook saves man from the tedious task of taking care of albums or preparing scrapbooks (who has the time to make them anyway!). Is it necessary, though?
Today, we are in a far richer world, full of words, concepts and signs – than the world that surrounded us before. More people are getting involved, are becoming part of the process or are writing more than they did before. This changing face of literature is uncontrollable. Whether it’s good or bad, is unpredictable and unknown. One can only wait and watch. (But, do we have the time to wait? Better to go with the flow!)