Young people” she began, “young people don’t read books much anymore” she continued, lamenting modernity and youth as she tucked her novel away into her library bag. “They’re always staring at screens”. Well, the elderly woman at the bustop (a total literary fraud created to fit my purpose here) might be right. But kids do read. They can be voracious readers (all those kids queuing for the latest Harry Potter and the multibook deal etc), and all of those blood-sucking, time-crossing, eternal characters who inhabit brick-thick, Vampire books that you buy by the kilo, and even Tolkien’s still popular. It is true that these books are also linked to high grossing movies which will always attract a teen audience, but kids still enjoy reading novels. And even in their pure forms.
But it’s not just the form that’s changed, it’s also the content. You usually have to read the pure form (what am I saying here?) before you attempt to read or write a fan fiction version in order to know what’s going on, what’s being adulterated. In fan fiction world Hermione, a Vampire and Gollum can all meet up, interact and create new forms of fiction, new fantasies, new arenas in which new writers can play out and represent our fears, anxieties, dreams and desires in more complex and challenging ways for us as readers to consume.
All these characters have names, histories, past attachments, challenges, strengths, failings etc etc etc, and all of these occur within the context of a carefully crafted world. This is the craft of literary composition, something I clearly lack. So what we see in fan fiction is not only a case of the reader becoming a writer (which is really the aim of our Blogging 101 challenge today), of the yin becoming the yang, but an extension and transformation of the novel from its original context to become something entirely new.
I’m sure that this has been theorised, researched and written about extensively, but I’m so totally not there yet. Even the Bible has thousands of fan fiction stories dedicated to improving and reinterpreting the original. Is this is a clash of worlds? An attraction to playing out the age-old myths in modern contexts? Or are fan fiction writers seamlessly doing in print what we do in modern multicultural societies, bringing everyone together on the same page to interact in new and creative ways?
This carefully constructed argument is a painfully thin veneer of an excuse to hide the fact that I’m not much of a reader. I used to devour books. Now I only have time for journal articles for the two professions that I belong to and the next one I’m trying to break into, and even then I’m sometimes reduced to skimming articles, or only reading the abstracts or – horror of horrors – only reading the title in the subject line of the email. These days if you want to get published (‘properly’, ie not in a blogpost) you have to basically tell the whole story in the title, so (hand up in the air) I’m guilty of receiving and reading fullsome titles.
Everyone around me reads avidly though and my house is covered in floor to ceiling book cases stuffed with knowledge: history, anthropology, fiction, kids fiction, science, technology and art books. There are medical texts too. And cook books, lots of cook books (they’re mine). At work my workmates read at lunchtime and discuss literary classics (no, not really, but I was getting into this). I even finally got an invitation to a book group that I had been dying to join and wondering what social faux pas I’d made that had prevented them from seeing my wit and brilliance and demanding that I join. I love going. And this is the kind where they drink wine AND read books. I’m so fearful though of summer ending because we’ve been tasked to report back in March on ‘what we’ve been reading’. I’m still only halfway through ‘Underground‘ by whatsisname, the Australian author. My report will be very, very brief and I’ll be quietly shunned I think for my ignorance and lack of adventurousness – but we’re not talking key parties here.
Everyone reads but me. “You have to be an avid reader” they all say, “or you can’t write”. “If you don’t read novels” they say, “you only live one life”. “READ ALL THE BEST BOOKS FIRST” my bookmark extols. “GUILTY” I cry! “Who has time to sit and read” I demand? [Where the hell do quotation marks go?] How can I put one and one together and make three if I’m not reading fiction? “But I have to do the assignment, or I’ll fail my first free online course” That would be embarassing.
But wait, isn’t this the modern form? Isn’t this how ‘Into the Woods‘ came about? And what about ‘One Direction Fan Fiction Writer gets Six Figure Book deal’? How am I possibly going to top these?
Once upon a time three little pigs were sent off into the world to make their own way and they built three houses. The first piggy built his house out of straw. The big bad wolf came along and blew the house down with the tornado from The Wizard of Oz. The second piggy built his house out of sticks and was fined by The Tax Inspector because he hadn’t applied for a council permit and then the big bad wolf blew it down and onsold the hardwood timbers to contractors who used it to build overpriced recycled homes to trendy DINKS in the inner city. The third piggy built his house out of bricks. The big bad wolf came along with the guy from Grand Designs and they did a great segment on exposed brick walls and the modern architectural form. Then they went into the third little piggie’s garden and picked fresh kale and made an Ottelenghi Kale, Quinoa and feta salad (don’t Google this, I just made it up). The salad was so delicious and fun to make they decided to film it so they brought in Baz Luhman who staged a theatrical spectacular with great costumes and songs, one of which made it into the ITunes Top 40 called ‘Salad Days‘. And the moral of the story is? Always build in brick and make every word count.