Sunday, February 22, 2015
Once upon a time, I was a student of English Literature. And in my studies (and even before that) I read and analysed good examples of literary theory and device. The purpose was not to limit the texts that I was exposed to, but to see what has been done in the past and then to relate to what is considered good practice in modern literature. It was a foundation of critique.

Some of these texts were universally hated*, even though they were necessary for study. I don't love ANIMAL FARM, for instance, but it is a good example of allegory. Similarly, I don't know many people who re-read HEART OF DARKNESS for fun, you know? But there's some reason we study it. I can't remember. That's how much that book has impacted my cognitive life. It's created a giant BLANK in my memory.

However, what has fascinated me more than the texts that people hate to read (and study) are those that are universally loved*. Shakespeare, Milton, Atwood, Morrison, King, Tolkien, Dahl, Martin, Rowling...Rowell.

During the breaks in lectures on William Blake (a favourite*), my fellow students would be murmuring about Bridget Jones or gasp Harry Potter. I was serious, back then. I was building a foundation of critique. I wouldn't be caught dead with romance or a children's book. And yet...

Popularity is captivating. Compelling. We wants it.

I read them in secret.

So whether my professors liked it or not, Popular Fiction went into the mortar. I would argue that it made my foundations stronger. Because while we need books that are good examples, that nourish our thinking minds, we need books that elicit emotion (no matter how base), help us escape, show us paths that aren't always apparent. To entertain. To illuminate with flights of fancy within the safety of a construct.

More and more these days, I feel that literature is in need of some "levellers." Forget award winners, bestsellers and classics and give me a book that: speaks to our times, our experience, a book that entertains, is weird, unprecedented, absolutely obvious, makes me think and see the world differently.

I wish this for writers.

Be brave.

Forget the lists. Forget the awards. Forget popularity. Tell us a story. Your best story. And you will be read.

*up for debate, obvs.


Mary @ BookSwarm said...

I like a little bit of everything when I'm reading. I need the balance of serious and silly, literary and pop. And Heart of Darkness kind of freaked me out. Don't remember a lot about it but I do remember it weighing on me as I read it. Same with The Jungle.

Kristan said...

Such a quietly powerful call to action, Sarah. Thank you for the reminder to pursue joy and story above all else -- but still to appreciate what the Capital L literary canon can teach us.

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The Bitter Kingdom
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Mind Games
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Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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