I will start this article by first stating that the concept of ‘ghostwriters’ has always perplexed me. As far as I understood, taking another individual’s creative property and marking it with your own name or initial was plagiarism (cue the internal voice of all of my secondary school English teachers that haunts me, warning me against this terrible act of literary infringement). It all made perfect sense to me; you simply don’t gain credit and recognition for the falsification that somebody else’s hard work and artistic material is in fact your own. We don’t use this method for anything else. You wouldn’t see me confidently stride into a recording studio and nab a sample fof another musician’s work, and then release the record as if it were my own, so why is this acceptable when it comes to publishing?
Many authors speak of this unofficial ‘contract’ between the writers themselves and their readers. It is a relationship that, although physically distant, is in actuality incredibly personal and emotionally intimate. The purpose of reading is to become invested in a story, invested in characters; largely complex and complicated characters that despite their fictional existence, deeply affect their readers enough to put them through 300 odd pages of often tortuous and elaborate narrative, in the naive hope and desperate lust for closure. There is little that is more despairing than turning the last page of a novel that has managed to rip your heart out, stomp all over it and then attempt to sew it all back together within the confines of the very last chapter. One of my favourite quotes that relates to this subject of the authenticity of writers and their words is by Stephen King, in his memoir, ‘On Writing’.
“Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Art, writing in particular, is a catharsis. It’s a way of surviving. With this in mind, what could be more important than the integrity of the author and their duty to their readers?
Now, I understand that the world of publishing itself is brutal. To be a novelist, or have any kind of career or making a living through writing is intensely difficult, borderline impossible. Ghostwriting can be a way of making enough money to financially support oneself while they embark on their own literary endeavours. This leads me to the reason I felt compelled to write this essay; Maya Sloan, the ghostwriter for the recent novel published by the prominent sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner, has received a lot of backlash for her decision to ghostwrite (can it also be used as a verb?!) for the pair of famous siblings.
None of us can really comment or judge Sloan on her decision to write for the Kardashian-related sisters. She is an autonomous human being and has every creative right to provide such a service, and I personally find some of the… passionate comments directed towards Sloan (and the Jenners) to be excessive. However, I cannot suppress the subsequent disappointment I feel towards what is essentially making a bit of a mockery of an invaluable craft.
My issue is that the Jenner sisters did not have to write a novel. There is so much hype surrounding these two siblings and their family, including a television show, clothing brand, etc.. that publishing a novel becomes rather redundant. And that is the one thing that writing should never be.
If the pair or either of the Jenner sisters had a genuine talent for writing and an ambition to write, then to puruse it without the aid of a ghostwriter would have been admirable and inspiring. It was inevitable that the girls were unfortunately going to face a lot of negative criticism, even prior to the publication, and I think we can accept that the novel was never going to be a contemporary American classic. But here we have a pair of young girls that possess such a presence in the media, that have so many other young girls following them and wanting to be them in many ways, that it depresses me that such an opportunity was missed here.
It depresses me that so many young girls (and boys) find reading to be boring, tedious, an arduous chore reserved only for English Literature classes. I am not a literary snob; I am of the belief that you do not for instance have to be conscious of the works of Salinger, Amis, Tolkien (to name a few) to ‘qualify’ as a reader. With successes such as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, it proves that the implications of reading can have universal effects; capturing a whole generation of people and forcing them to talk and embrace difficult topics such as terminal cancer, as well as providing them with a sense of support and comfort in the words which hold so much weight and worth to their readers.
The Jenners’ novel, ‘Rebels: City of Indra’ is in the popular genre of Young Adult dystopian fiction. Other works of the same genre include ‘The Hunger Games‘ series by Suzanne Collins, a novel that provides the readers with a strong female lead which, it is not an exaggeration to say has revolutionised the standard of heroic protagonists. In a time where girls are largely influenced by appearances, and are often reinforced to believe their worth is derived from their physical attractiveness, it is refreshing and hugely significant that they now have access to a young female who is brave and substantial as Katniss Everdeen.
And this is where the problem lies. The Jenner sisters, whether intentionally or not, represent this concept of vapidity.
An abundance of narcissistic selfies (we may all be guilty of this), the desire to have a ‘thigh gap’… a lack of substance. Our young generation needs hope, they need to be inspired and they need to not feel so pressured. We need to encourage and motivate them, and we need to make sure they grow up to be fully-formed and empathetic human beings. With ghostwriters, all we’re doing is providing them with more lies; an appearance of something that isn’t what it really is, much in the same way Photoshop provides them with unrealistic beauty standards. I fear that young girls will buy the Jenners’ novel if only to put a filter on it and post it on Instagram, for it never to be read for the simple fact that it isn’t even written by them. It’s just another possession to own, another fashionable thing to partake in. Reading is not and never will be a fashion statement.
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