Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Why I Can't Be Bothered With Respect

One of the other librarians in my department just sent me this link to a NY Times article on the best work of American fiction in the last 25 years (you may have to register to see the article - but it's free!)

Big surprise here - it's all literary fiction and the panel of judges (outside of Stephen King - I can't believe those hoity-toity types invited him!) are all writers with a serious literary bent. Not that King doesn't deserve literary accolades, but he's still carrying the stink of a "genre fiction" hack to many in the literary community. Personally I hope he's rolling around naked in all his money - but that's just me.

Anyway, I had a point...

I'm not going to dispute any title on this list - mainly because I tend to avoid literary fiction like the plague. Why? Because I had to read this kind of crap for a very long time thanks to the current educational requirements it takes to become a librarian.

That would be - high school graduate, 4-year undergraduate degree (mine is in history) and a master's degree in library science (I got mine in a year and a half).

I had to say, do and read a lot of stuff against my own free will during this time period. Think of it as academic whoring.

All I could think about while I was in college was getting out. The sooner, the faster, the better.

So it goes without saying that now that I'm free (FREE!), the last thing I want to do is force myself to read something that makes me think.

Contrary to that last statement - I am not a complete dumb ass. No, somewhere down the line (Mom maybe?) I equated reading with fun. Reading = Fun. I still think that today. Reading shouldn't be a chore. Reading shouldn't be hard. It should be pleasurable. In the right circumstances it can even be orgasmic.

That's not to say that genre fiction hasn't "taught" me anything. I can remember turns of phrase and passages from genre fiction books I read years ago. I can recall why a book moved me. Especially romances where the author has to write a deep, emotional connection between her characters in order for the story to work.

The literary community has always felt that genre fiction has no value because it's fluff. It's written by hacks only out to make a buck. And ::shudder:: the common man reads genre fiction. The horror!

I argue that anything that requires your mind to work can't be all bad. Leisure activities that cause one to "zone out" do not actively keep you engaged. Reading anything keeps you engaged. You cannot "zone out" and still read a book. Not possible! Cannot happen!

So why not read something fun? Something engaging? A page turner? Something that keeps you up all night? Hey, as great of a writer as I'm sure Philip Roth is - how many people has he kept up at night? Now ask yourself - how many people have lost sleep thanks to Stephen King?

Probably a few more.

Yet who is considered the "better" writer?


Jennie said...

The NYTBR is the most boring thing on the planet. That list of theirs is ridiculous. It's like coming up with a list of the best restaurants in the US by only surveying French chefs. I think they're getting a lot of criticism for it even among the literary crowd.

I agree with you 100%. It's the reason I wasn't an English major in college--I hate having people tell me what to read. A lot more people would read for pleasure if they hadn't been tortured by depressing crap in high school.

Susan K said...

I read literary fiction and I read romance and I read mysteries and . . . well, you get the picture. Each genre brings me something I like, or I wouldn't keep reading it. However, looking at the list of the Top 25, I realized I hadn't read any of those books. As you say, in the end reading should be a pleasurable experience, not something I do because it's like castor oil for the brain. I stopped reading Philip Roth when I asked myself why I, as a woman, should bother with someone so obviously misogynistic -- and he's not the only one in the so-called great author pool. I don't always require a HEA as defined by Romance, but I don't want to be depressed at the end of a book either.

Big Sis said...

Here's the list from NPR. Have I mentioned I love NPR?- Lori

The 'New York Times' List
The New York Times asks authors to weigh in on the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years.


Toni Morrison


Don DeLillo

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels
John Updike
Rabbit at Rest
Rabbit Is Rich
Rabbit Redux
Rabbit, Run

American Pastoral
Philip Roth


A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole

Marilynne Robinson

Winter's Tale
Mark Helprin

White Noise
Don DeLillo

The Counterlife
Philip Roth

Don DeLillo

Where I'm Calling From
Raymond Carver

The Things They Carried
Tim O'Brien

Norman Rush

Jesus' Son
Denis Johnson

Operation Shylock
Philip Roth

Independence Day
Richard Ford

Sabbath's Theater
Philip Roth

Border Trilogy
Cormac McCarthy
'Cities of the Plain'
'The Crossing'
'All the Pretty Horses'

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

The Known World
Edward P. Jones

The Plot Against America
Philip Roth

Sam H said...

I have not read any of those books either-despite being a lifelong bookworm. I was an English major and all I remember thinking during my last semester was how I couldn't wait to chuck out all the required reading and spend a year on nothing but romance novels. Our assistant director is a former English teacher who is always trying to get me read the type of books on that list, but to me most of it is depressing and I say give me a harlequin any day.

Sarah said...

What a great entry! I wrote a paper for my modernism and postmodernism English class about the connections between genre fiction and "highbrow" or canon literature and you mentioned many of the points I brought up in my paper, how genre fiction makes you feel something and can find ways to make you connect with the stories in a way that the read for pleasure only reader can understand.

But yes, I was intrigued by your thoughts in this direction.