The false appeal of the new

Pick a ‘great books’ list – any of the many – and look at the publication dates. For example, this one. Here is the top ten from that list, with the publication dates.

top books

Note that only three of the top ten books on this list are from the 20th century, and none are post-2000. On the other hand, there are over 60,000 new novels published each year. So, what are the odds that any of this year’s new books makes it onto anyone’s great books list? Clearly, the odds are: none.

Yet, hope abides. New books get attention. Look at the storefront of any bookstore, or the reading list of any book club. Here are the three most recent selections from a local book club.

book club

Note that each of these books was published within the last two years.

The same thing happens with film – the most modern art form. Here are the top ten ‘great films’ from the list on the web site IMDB:

book club

The newest film on the list is nearly twenty years old. Sources indicate around 700 films are released commercially each year. What are the odds that any of the 700 from any one year becomes a ‘great film’?

The same thing occurs in any creative field. Take music. There are probably around 20,000 new recordings released each year. How many of these will be remembered a year later? The 2014 Album of the Year award at the Grammys went to Daft Punk, for their recording ‘Random Access Memories’. A year earlier it was Mumford & Sons for ‘Babel’. Will anyone remember them 20 years from now?

I’m not criticizing current creative endeavor. There is no evidence that more or less good/great art is produced today than at any other time. My beef is with the love affair with NEW. I’m crying ‘fraud’ and saying that rather than listening to new music, reading new books, watching new films, our time is better spent with works from the past that are already reviewed, tested, and proven great.

I know most of you will ignore this and keep on rolling the dice, buying the new books…renting the new films; and thank you! After all, you are the patrons that fund the engine that grinds out all the new content. If that engine falters or slows, then there are no new great works of art. So, please, keep it up!

The bottom line
I encourage those of you who are more discriminating to resist the constant calls to look at all the new stuff. Relatively speaking, it’s junk. Instead, spend a little effort to find the great stuff from the past that’s already sitting there, waiting for you.

For the rest of you, thanks for funding the ‘new art’ lottery!

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