Now, the novelist who takes that prize is Dan Brown. And so the changing of the guard in American fiction is arguably not just generational but cultural: the large, interested readership who lined their shelves with Updike’s Rabbit Quartet, Bellow’s Herzog, Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and other bestsellers of serious literary merit had perhaps migrated to the quick-read thriller and the confessional memoir.
I find this trend in American letters to be as troubling as the stories of failing bookstores and disinterested readers. Is this what we’ve come to as a culture? To be taken in by substandard writing and poor plot devices, while our grandparents’ generation fostered such rich literary culture? True, this culture was very white, male and largely shaped by the second World War. But when Dan Brown takes John Updike’s place on the cover of Time magazine, what does that say about literary culture as we go forth into this new century?
Interesting questions to think of. Check out the rest of the essay by Mark Lawson on The Guardian, Masters of American Literature.