Both The Guardian and the NYDailyNews recently posted articles about a new study that seems to suggest that modern writers are becoming less and less influenced by past literature. In trying to come to grips with the terms of the study itself – ‘influence’ was measured by non-content word usage, measuring style not content, the sampling was of books available on Project Gutenberg that were published between 1550 and 1952 (which were then all written in English?) – I’ve come to a few of my own conclusions.
Conclusion #1 There are more people who know how to read and write now. Or, I should more accurately say, more people knew how to read and write in 1952 than there were people who knew how to read and write in 1920, let alone 1870, or 1660, etc.
Conclusion #2 More books became more available as more people had more time and money to read them. There were also an increasing number of people writing who weren’t rich white males, though I bet it was still pretty difficult in 1952 to get published if you were not male or not white.
Conclusion #3 Just because I have a shitty attitude about widespread generalizations based on out-dated source material quantified in meaningless ways doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get very upset and all up in arms about society crumbling because we’re all not reading the classics.
Conclusion #4 All of the people I’ve known who studied the Classics – as in Greek and Latin Classics – were incredibly dark and fatalistic. They were the smartest people I knew but by and large the most dangerously depressive.
Conclusion #5 Dead authors I’ve personally been heavily influenced by: Dostoevsky, Sherwood Anderson, Chekov, Raymond Carver, John Updike, Nabokov, Hemingway, Faulkner. Dead authors I could write like without coming off as a complete and total ass: 0.