Bad Books Crowding Out the Good Ones

Most writers live in their own little utopias. I suppose that’s what differentiates a good writer from a mediocre one – the good writer builds a world for himself where he’d rather be; drama and passion and violence and purpose when his life might be full of excessive misery or even just an immense tedium. He writes from a place of suffering.

I’ve often wonder why Russian novels are so remarkable – and why Russian novelists are so famous. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn. And I suppose it’s for this reason.


The ideological left is better at novels than we are; they say it’s because they are dreamers and we are more practical. Perhaps it is exactly what makes their art better – more inspiring – that also causes the epic failures of their political projects again and again. The appeal to creativity; the dreamers and hopers – those who can create in their own minds wonderful worlds independent of the individual wills of other humans. But who can never seem to get the humans to cooperate, when it comes time to laying pipe and mortar. The suffering of their souls expressed in their motivations that more practical people reject as unwanted or unneeded.

Who knows…

What I do know is that I find my own little utopias to be quite livable indeed; and I often go back to them in moments of stress or on days like today when I’m just a little sad. They are usually faraway places, and grand – my utopias are. In “The Lieutenant” it’s an idyllic beach-village where the residents drink rum all day long as they fish, and all night they fry their catches and tell stories of significance; where the rum does not inebriate and there is no hunger. In “The Burning” it is a quiet monastery hidden away high in the Andes, where priests of a past age wait patiently for their visitors – where the ale is sweet and dishes clean themselves; in “Misrule” I suppose it’s probably a lush valley in the High Atlas Mountains when all the protagonist Aliuf has known is desert, heat and suffering. And in “The Camps” – which I haven’t released yet – it is a quiet tented lodge away from the maddening poverty and the violent pursuits of the ruffians.

Yes, if I were to be honest with myself I would admit that I too am somewhat of a Utopian. Each of these places I describe in my novels exists beyond the laws of supply and demand which in our world makes life livable, tolerable – but in our novels just get in the way. Who wants to read a story about fitting pipes together, drilling wells or shucking oysters? It’s exactly because I don’t have to stress about how the luxury is provided; who pays the bills, who builds the rooms and cooks the food and cleans the bathrooms and generates the electricity; that the power is held.

Entering into the mundane destroys the magic.

In our world, we do certainly need them both, don’t we? The novelist who can conjure a glistening village clinging to the tops of jungle trees in the Amazon, who can create a Djinn to preserve ancient Islamic works of philosophy and who can summon an exotic village and perch it in perpetuity on idyllic sands; and also the businessmen who plan their enterprises, the accountants who make the figures add up, the plumbers to assure the pipes don’t leak and the bricklayers who make the wall stand.

Nevertheless in this world there certainly appears to be more of a place for the latter – when the former are relegated to poverty if they aren’t locked away in the darkness.

I’ve been a little disappointed lately in the world – as I’m sure you’ve figured; or at least can understand. Because it seems unjust (not unfair – the term fair is one I don’t accept); it seems unjust that those with so much to offer humanity must undergo such a rough time of it. Eight years in the gulag for Solzhenitsyn; similar time for Sharanksy; hell, Leo Africanus was enslaved on a pirate ship for five years.

Maybe it’s essential, I tell myself. Perhaps it is just this type of stress that molds so great a character – the process of natural selection killing off the imperfect talents. Perhaps this is why American literary landscape has become such a barren place; occupied as it is by the stories of those who have never had to suffer, strive or fight or create utopias to escape their misery or defeat their monsters.

Wealth without work. A following without skill. Bad books crowding out the good ones.

My writer friends, those who are honest and real, know exactly what I’m saying; those who don’t, well I suppose they are the problem.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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8 Responses to Bad Books Crowding Out the Good Ones

  1. Sam the Sham says:

    Why do you reject the term ‘Unfair’? Is it along the lines that it’s an over-used term needing a bit of rest and more careful usage? Or do you think that it’s inherently a nonsense term?

    Also, have you heard of Jordan Peterson? A professor who is a fan of Solzhenitsyn, etc, who recently found himself in a spot of trouble.


    • Fair is what parents try to be to children I think. Too many people use this analogy for the govt; but its wrong. Fair tries to provide equality of conditions (all my kids get braces, a college fund that is the same size for each, the same number of xmas presents under the tree). The economics call this equality of outcomes. Justice on the other hand is about treating everybody by the same set of rules – rule of law. Not everybody is gonna have a huge house, but property rights are exactly the same for all and enforced the same for all, giving everybody the same chance. I haven’t heard of Peterson, I’ll look him up though thanks. What trouble did he find himself in?


    • Sam the Sham says:

      Peterson publicly refuses to obey a mandate to use gender-neutral language, mostly because it was mandated. He is also fighting Bill C-16 in Canada that makes it a Human Rights violation if someone does not use preferred pronouns (even if done unknowingly). He has a number of videos on YouTube for his lectures, which analyze symbology, personality, and narrative archetypes, which may be of particular interest to a writer.

      The best definition I’ve heard (to my ears) for Justice is the Payment of Debts. Fairness is certainly something different to Justice, and I’m not sure really what either has to do with the law. In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread (and I think we’d agree this is neither fair nor just). Perhaps the universal rule of law is another virtue altogether, perhaps it’s a mistake to associate law with virtue. I don’t want to drag you into a theological discussion if you don’t want to, but I did want your clarification – thanks!


      • There are certainly things that are wrong but legal, just as there’s things that are right but illegal. Then – there are things that are just. I’ll have to think more about the “paying of debts” angle. I believe in natural law. “The laws of God on the hearts of man” or “the truths we hold self evident” and the like. These never change – and the closer we get to honoring them with our laws (and actions), the closer we get to prosperity. The farther away, the more miserable. Which is why i chuckle at the idea of the socialists that says “its a perfect system, just man can’t be trusted with it”. It is the farthest thing from perfect – which is why its results are so dastardly. The closest thing to perfect is standing naked before God and answering for our goodness and our wickedness. Natural law can be found at its basic roots in the 10 commandments as the code for a good society. Rule of law, due process, private property, nuclear family as the center of society, and of course monotheism atop it all.


      • Sam the Sham says:

        It sounds like you’re partly in the Intuitionist camp, that we can just apprehend good and evil in the same sense that we apprehend 2+2=4 without needing to exercise any of the five physical senses, Which I agree with, but the sense of morality can be dulled like any other. And, if we leave it at that it will get corrupted into moral relativism (I FEEL this is good, and you feel that’s good, who can judge).

        Which is where defining terms becomes important, as a defense against the corruption of moral sense. It puts the left on our terrain. The battle is not fought over might making right, but instead Social Justice, and we can then ask – is this actually Social behavior, excluding people based off of the conditions of their birth? is it Just? It is very important for us to not think about these things, but to only know that they are good. Rights are good, and now we have rights to health care, to food, to water, to shelter, and surely my need AND right for food is more important than your right to keep the fruit of your harvest. And now, of course, the word ‘rights’ is meaningless and I don’t know of anyone in my generation who can actually define the term, and that is doubleplus ungood. Hail the degradation of language – maybe that’s a source for the lack of quality books?

        Back to Fairness. I think it is a virtue and distinct from Justice, but just like Justice above the term gets corrupted… and I’m struggling to come up with a good way to define it. Being given a sporting chance? Equality of opportunity? Without a definition, it will be owned by those who have no interest in it. I could understand not accepting a word that’s literally been co-opted to mean its opposite, but I’d say that’s a strategic mistake.


      • You’re absolutely right about language being meaningless. Take your “social justice”. (As I say in my novel ‘the burning’) its actually the opposite of true justice, because while justice seeks equality of conditions (before the law) social justice is always looking for excuses and conditions and exceptions. My question for you (and I agree with you on relativism) is that if we don’t accept natural rights as received from God and passed down to us through the generations by the philosophers (and which, whenever we strayed from them we make a real hash out of things) then how do you know what is right? And if you can’t answer this outside yourself, you end up with relativism on one end and might-makes-right on the other. Sort of like the “gold standard” of rights – why do we always fall back on Gold as a store of value and unit of measure? Because we always have – even the ancients knew it was valuable and nothing has changed. Still the more gold you have, the richer you are.


      • Sam the Sham says:

        How to know what morality is, tricky question. It can be partially intuited. It can be partially democratically agreed upon (dangerous to trust a single human’s sense of morality). I don’t know what else you could offer to someone nonreligious.

        Where morality comes from – it has to be outside humanity, of course, to not be relative. While I am a Christian, I don’t know that a God is logically necessary (if you believe that God could do evil – like the point of the temptation of Christ – then morality is also outside of God. Or, in the words of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – God adopting perfectly the law of morality, perhaps?) Wherever it comes from, it is absolute. We can approach better understanding by study, and some people’s understanding of it are better than others. And so now I’m studying the aspect of Fairness 🙂


      • I tend to distrust morality legislated by the masses. Too often the masses are wrong; and you get tyranny. Which is why I go back to the beginning, even without faith there are ways that society is organized. Theft is punished. Family is protected. Lies are frowned upon. These come from who we are, natural laws like the physical ones. Without them, we don’t know how to act.


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