How often have you gone to get a book, only to end up with one of the classics because the current offerings didn't grab you?
There may be a reason for that, and it's all in the numbers.
A Dartmouth college professor analyzed the literary trends in modern writing, using a formula that counted up the use of certain words, such as "at" or "of" in the books of over 500 authors.
What Daniel Rockmore found was that our modern writers aren't relying so much on the old classics for their style. Instead, they copy the style of each other.
What are those MFA students, in that case? You'd say that they don't spend all their time reading the old stuff. Once they get established as writers, they read what is being published to keep on top of market trends, and the influence of the classics gets further diminished.
Contemporary writers influence other contemporary writers, resulting in a common style that you may not find as rich or fulfilling as a juicy piece of Emily Bronte or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Author Lionel Shriver suggests that we don't all have the patience for the sort of navel gazing that fill the pages of Dostoevsky and Dumas, therefore those classics go unread and the influence of those authors fades.
But what are we getting instead?
We are swamped with authors bemoaning some personal issue and treating it as if it is of earth-shattering importance. Rather than ponder the implications of injustice, a la Dumas, we find writers delving deep into their own psyches to wrestle their own demons, assuming that the world is fascinated by the struggle or shares the pain.
It's more than subject matter. Sentences have grown shorter and less complex. You might pick up a book and think you've grabbed some YA by mistake, but the content is not for kids.
Like anything else, literature evolves over time.
Like all aspects of evolution, some changes improve survival, while others lead down the road to extinction.
Which way might literature go?