I recently read with great interest B.P. Rouleau’s Why Men’s Fiction Is Suffering A Great Decline. Rouleau’s perspective as a fiction writer is invaluable, and without doubt he accurately diagnoses the malaise that surrounds much of American fiction today. Yet, more than once I found myself sitting up in my chair as I read, begging to differ with him on one or two points. I intend to elaborate on those here.It wasn't that long ago that novelists were also celebrities, i.e. Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and Isaac Asimov. Which authors are like that today? J.K. Rowling comes to mind but she doesn't appear in the American press as much as in her home country, obviously. Maybe a few genre guys like Stephen King and John Grisham and Dan Brown, though I don't think anyone will ever accuse them of writing great literature. My personal favorite "literary" novelist is Tom Wolfe. No one has come close to painting as accurate a picture of contemporary American life as he. "The Bonfire of the Vanities" nailed the Establishment and its search for the Great White Defendant. In real life, that search usually blows up in the media's faces; see the Zimmerman case or Ferguson.
Was there ever a “golden age” for the consumption of fiction in America? I am not so sure. Much of the best fiction, as I see it, was surrounded by obscurity and lack of appreciation from the moment of its initial appearance. The literati here comprised an islanded class, aristocratic in its presumptions and preferences. Was there ever a time when men “appreciated” fiction? Here again, I am not so certain of the answer. Like all great things, great fiction has always been an elite pursuit; it has never been for the masses.
Great fiction deserves a place on every man's bookshelf because it allows us to explore humanity at its best and its worst. Once in a while though, I enjoy some good old fashioned pulp about badass dudes doing badass shit. I strongly recommend the original Robert E. Howard stories about Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane. Howard is considered a pulp writer but his style is surprisingly good for the genre.
Physical books are dying as an industry. Story telling will always be with us. If the numbers are accurate, i.e. men make up only 20% of the market for fiction consumption, then there's a great untapped market out there waiting for someone of my incomparable writing genius to crack open like a lobster and feast upon the innards. Have I ever mentioned how proud I am of my humility?