A while before I wrote this article, I happened to watch a rather interesting Youtube video about punk videogames. Not only was this video absolutely fascinating, but it was also fairly thought-provoking too. In addition to reminding me why I love the original “Doom” so much, it also made me think about books too.
The more I thought about it, the more… punk… books seemed to be. And, yes, even the most “mainstream” novels are still more punk than things like mainstream films, mainstream games etc…
But, why? Here are a few reasons why novels are more punk than you might think.
1) Much less censorship: This was the reason I used to read so much when I was a teenager. Books were rebellious. Unlike films, books don’t have to pass a censor before they are published. They didn’t carry patronising age restrictions, they didn’t have scenes excised by tutting people in London or any of that sort of nonsense. And, to my teenage self, this was the coolest thing in the world.
So, when I was a teenager, I read a lot. In addition to general fiction, I also read old second-hand splatterpunk horror novels I found in charity shops, I read “edgy” high-brow fiction (eg: Ballard, Burroughs, Burgess, Thompson, Kerouac etc..), I read dystopian fiction etc… This got me interested in writing, it improved my imagination and it widened my perspective on the world. And it was because books were the only uncensored storytelling medium available to me 🙂
Whether it was the result of the landmark “Lady Chatterley” trial here in the UK, or the American first amendment, books are one of the most free forms of creative expression available to us. And, with the possible exception of theatre, no other creative medium can even come close in this regard. And, if this isn’t punk, then I don’t know what is.
2) No system requirements: [Note: This part of the article was originally prepared when I still used a slightly older mid-2000s computer, rather than a vaguely modern refurbished one. Even so, the point probably still stands] A few hours before I wrote this article, I was losing interest in reading again. I was getting nostalgic about the days, not that long ago, when I played retro/indie computer games and watched DVD boxsets instead of reading books. So, out of nostalgia, I went back to one of my favourite game sites with the possible idea of looking through the “sale” page and getting a cheap copy of a game I hadn’t played before.
With all of the gaming-based videos I’d found myself watching on Youtube over the past week, I was excited about the idea of getting back into playing/reviewing more than just the occasional fan-made “Doom II” level every month. Plus, there were lots of interesting-looking indie games on the site too. Then… I looked at the system requirements for these games. And I remembered why I read books these days.
Unlike computer games, which will often require you to have a modern computer just for the privilege of playing them, all that books require is literacy. If you can read, then you can read books published last week, you can read books published decades ago, you can read pretty much anything. You can read cheap second-hand paperbacks and expensive new hardbacks.
There’s much less of a barrier to entry. If you can read, then you can read. You don’t need to splash out on expensive technology just to keep up with the latest books. Again, is there anything more punk than this?
3) Individuality and humanity: Even the most mainstream of mainstream novels are usually written by just one person. Everything inside a novel is shaped by the imagination and sensibilities of one author. This might sound obvious, but it doesn’t really apply to some other popular mediums.
After all, films are large, expensive, collaborative projects. Games even more so. There’s a lot less room for individuality, a lot less room for personal expression or anything human like that. Plus, with more people involved, more money tends to get involved too. And this usually means that there’s someone pushing for things to conform to whatever they think will sell the most copies and please the shareholders.
Books, on the other hand, have slightly less of this. Sure, there are still editors and publishers in print publishing. But, because most books rely on one person to tell the story in their own way, books often tend to have a lot more individuality and humanity than most other mediums. And, even with the blandest of mainstream novels, this is still pretty punk when you think about it.
4) It’s easier to start writing one: All you need to write fiction is a pen and paper. Even the most primitive word-processing program on the most low-end computer will also do the job too.
Not only are the tools needed to write fiction very cheap and easily accessible, but the basic skills of writing are usually taught to everyone at school too. Yes, you’ll still need to practice and read a lot to become good at writing fiction, but anyone can get started with it fairly easily.
Now compare this to something like film or computer games. To make these things even vaguely well, you often need a lot of expensive equipment and a team of people. In other words, the barrier to entry is much higher. Whereas, writing doesn’t have any of these problems. Again, this is really punk when you think about it.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂