Thursday, February 26, 2015

3 Reasons Why The Novel Is More Important Than Ever.

The novel is not the exclusive domain of good writing; I have seen well-written words on tweets, blog posts, pins, bathroom walls, carved into the bark of beech trees, and scrawled on bits of used envelopes. But there is something about the novel--something we are losing. Consider this quote from English teacher extraordinaire and novelist Conrad Tuerk: a high school English teacher, I have seen firsthand (social media's) insidious effects on today's youth.  Not only are their language skills poor, but they lack the attention spans to sit quietly with a novel and ponder its depths.  The same point you make about the novel can be made for long form journalism.  It gives substance to short news bytes and allows for critical investigation.

Depth, substance, richness: These are just three of the attributes of the novel. I suspect you will be able to build that list from your own experience as a novel reader; let me add from mine. Consider the following three novels: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, The Power and the Glory.

If you have not read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, pick up your Kindle, grab your Nook, type Amazon into your browser, or--best yet--go to your local library or book store. In his iconic work, Greene portrays a man's journey to sainthood, a journey which leads him through neither joy nor self-satisfaction, but rather through self-loathing and despair. It would be quite impossible to construct such a tale in any form other than the novel. You can do a lot with 140 characters--but even Greene needed 222 pages (in the Penguin Classics edition) to get the job done.

I got dragged into reading The Power and the Glory because it was required reading for a class I was taking--by the time I turned the last page I was not the same person who started the book. That's one of the things a good novel will do. A good novel affects you; changes you, heals you, inspires you. We need more of them.

"It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization - it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt." -Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

The Lord of the Rings has been called everything from an extended allegory of Jesus Christ to the best motion picture in the history of film. I call it the best novel of all time, in that it has everything a novel should have: memorable characters, a riveting story, good prose and dialogue, and meaning. I will add that it is neither concise nor simplistic. Consider this: Tolkien created at least 18 different languages, complete with vocabulary and rules of grammar, including the 12 different tongues spoken by Men in three ages, and the languages of Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Mordor, called the Black Speech, which shall not be uttered here. Think of the complexity and labor involved in writing a work which involved making up 18 different languages--and please don't think this process was only incidental to the writing. Tolkien himself, in one of his many letters, wrote: 'The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.' Try making up 18 different languages in 140 characters.

Why bother? Think how this work has endured, how its relevance has not been lost to time or change or the assault of digitilization. The Lord of the Rings has endured because of its complexity and scope and depth, not in spite of it. Change and evolution are good things, but in this hyper-evolving world, it is important to remember from whence we came--good novels do that.

J.R.R. Tolkien “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

What more can a reviewer say about To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic tale of race relations in the Deep South; ranked above the Bible by the Association of British Librarians as the book to read before you die. (And those British Librarians know their stuff.) Somewhere around my fortieth year, my wife discovered I had never read Mockingbird and so she gave it to me as a birthday gift. And so I read the book and found out what all the British Librarian buzz was about. Much has been said about the book and I won't simply re-write it. But I will add something: Attitcus Finch--who is not a real person--made me want to be a better person. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired generations of Americans--not to mention scores of British Librarians--to be more just, more open-minded and more courageous. I don't know of many #tweets that have done that.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." -Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Thanks again for your support. Make sure to visit My Website, and my author blog, PeterHogenkampWrites. By way of announcements, I am happy to announce the upcoming launch of fellow Prose&Cons blogger Jan Moran's debut novel, The Scent of Triumph, which has received excellent reviews. The Scent of Triumph (Macmillan) is available on March 31, 2015; you can click on the link to pre-order and read the reviews.

Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


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