Novels take time to write and way more time to read. They take themselves seriously. If there is one thing they love more than telling stories it is teaching. Never mind that at different points in history, certain kinds of novels have come along and wailed, “Oh, teaching is for creeps. We do not teach. We do not care. Read us for the nothing we offer you. We give nothing. So expect nothing.” Don’t be fooled. Novels are always teaching. They do not even have to mean to teach. They just do.
I hate to admit it, but they travel well and love to pick up new habits as they hop around the world. Achebe says as much in one of his many essays. Notwithstanding, novels always have a core set of values on which they never compromise. These values that help the novel stay true to itself are guarded by a strange clique of cemetery watchmen called literary critics.
Novels are stuck up. Everyone knows that. There are many reasons why, but I’ll only mention one…maybe three. The main character in a novel always has to be unique or different. Part of the crowd, but set apart nonetheless. Even when characters in a novel are ordinary, their ordinariness is extraordinary. That just about disqualifies most of us from having a chance at being characters in a novel. Doesn’t it? Of course, some of us like to think of our lives as cute little novels being written in realtime. But that, my dear, is one of the many necessary fictions of our lives.
Novels are at their most cheesiest when they worry about their age. I am yet to meet the novel that is totally okay with coming around, staying for a minute, and then disappearing. Every novel has the dream of becoming a classic. In the world of novels, money talks but so does shelf life.