Welcome to another installment of the Literary Blog Hop, a delightful and thought-provoking meme in which our hosts at The Blue Bookcase challenge us to think and write intelligently about literature. I don't know if I'll succeed in that lofty goal, but we'll give it a shot. (Confession: Since my answer to the prompt question this month could be considered controversial, I deliberatelty waited until after I'd written this post to read anyone else's posts for the month. If I sound like I'm directly echoing someone else, or challenging someone else, please know that it was entirely unintentional.)
This month, we're discussing how to interest the "anti-literature" camp in our favorite supergenre. What do you recommend to the person who says they "don't like 'literature'?"
|Photo by Tom Murphy VII|
Perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate this is to recommend a book that your "non-literary" friend wouldn't expect to hear you call "literature". I hold degrees in both linguistics and English, and one thing I've learned is that average human beings never give themselves enough credit for being rational. Native speakers of English often say things like, "Oh, I don't speak good English, or at least, I don't speak it properly." A perfectly constructed, grammatically correct English sentence about how a person who has spoken English since infancy doesn't speak her own language! It's quite possible that people who enjoy reading, yet say they "don't like literature," aren't giving themselves enough credit for making good book choices, and aren't crediting their favorite authors with the ability to craft a literary novel.
|17th-Century Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer|
Now, am I suggesting that Debbie Macomber's or Richard Paul Evans' works be considered great literature? Hardly. I like Debbie Macomber, but I wouldn't vote for her stuff to appear in the next Norton Anthology of American Literature. However, the ability to distinguish "literature" from "a good yarn" has a lot to do with simply getting some education on the subject, and sometimes, people read books with "literary merit" without knowing they've done so. Really good authors can slip the "literature" inside an ooey-gooey delicious coating of fluff and have many of their readers never be the wiser, like parents slathering their children's broccoli with cheese sauce. Even readers who sat through entire semesters on Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dante--which I did--can dive into these books and enjoy the literary merit, or not, as they choose.
Which brings me to my actual answer to this question. If a friend of mine who loved to read said she couldn't stand "literature," my immediate response would be, "Ever read Harry Potter?"
Leaving aside all those who think Harry Potter is the Spawn of Satan, and those who just can't stand fantasy fiction, the majority of responses would probably be something along the lines of, "Yeah, but that's technically for kids, isn't it? I liked it, even though I'm an adult, but I felt kind of funny about that." Or else, "Oh, they were awesome, but I'd hardly call that literature, would you?!"
To which I would respond, "That's EXACTLY what I'd call it, and there's a reason that so many adults liked those 'children's' books."
I may get major argument on this one, but in her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling encapsulated many of the most fundamental literary tropes in the Western canon--the archetypal mother (Lily), the voice of wisdom and reason (Hermione), the hero of epic (guess who?). Hermione's like a one-woman Greek chorus, for heaven's sake, except that the hero actually hears her and stops doing some stupid things!
Obviously, this is only a starting point, but it is a VALID starting point, and if my "anti-literature" friend said she'd never read any of them, I would send her off to the bookstore with stern orders to not let her head hit the pillow that night until she'd at least read "Chapter 1--The Boy Who Lived". It would be the first step toward preparing her to discuss Christ, Mithras, Osiris and Horus, as well as the works of Joseph Campbell and Edith Hamilton. If she revealed that she was a Potter maniac, I would then say, "Excellent! How about we read Beowulf or The Odyssey together now? If you liked Harry Potter, you just might love one of those two!"