Recommends from Friends
I was talking to a young writer years ago who recommended a television series to me. So I sat down with my wife to watch an episode. It turned out to be violent, crude, and unoriginal. It wasn’t terrible, mind you. In fact, it’s something of a hit, so it’s a little better than much of what is on television, but it really wasn’t “great” by any standard.
I watched one episode, and decided that life was too short to ever watch another.
Lately, this seems to happen more and more. People recommend books, movies, or television shows, and I find that in the great eternal scheme of things, the works are merely passable.
Why does this happen? If you’ve been watching tired movies for a year and one comes along that has even a glimmer of sparkle, it seems preferable to others of its kind. Is it a timeless movie? Probably not.
The truth is, most art isn’t very good
Theodore Sturgeon once pointed out that “90% of everything is crap.” If you look at a dozen Western novels at random, or a dozen paintings, or a dozen poems, or listen to a dozen songs from an album, most of them will be forgettable.
There is a danger in exposing yourself to too much vapid art. It can weaken your judgment and erode your sensibilities, until the time comes when you see things that are merely passable, and somehow think that they’re good.
So from time to time we need to re-train our sensibilities. We need to seek out the best that we can find, then let it lift our vision.
At times I find it helpful to go back to some of the masters and study literature. For example, I think that if you want to write beautifully, it’s helpful to study poetry. One of my favorite poets is Theodore Roethke, an American poet who has been dead now for more than fifty years. Like Robert Frost, or T.S. Eliot, or William Shakespeare—he still has the power to inspire me.
So who are the good writers in your field? Have you read any of them lately?