I’m going to put off my promised entry about the cult of bibliophiles, and talk about something that occured to me this morning. I’d like this to be an interactive entry because I am not of one mind on this. My question is: can modern must-read Literature be defined by a group of elite reviewers? (Essentially, do I really need to be a Literary snob with a Literary bookography to pretend that I know what I’m talking about?)
I have noticed lately that I fall into the stereotype of ‘readers of trash’ when classified by self-proclaimed intellectuals. Also, reading this morning in Harper’s, New York Times, and other magazines with articles on the web that based on my library and on my Bookography over the years, that I am one of those who spends money on what is apparently the downfall of literate culture. (I have taken this to mean ‘genre fiction’ such as modern mystery, romance, sci-fi, and fantasy novels. If an author is dead, though, that automatically seems to classify them as worth reading.)
In school, I read all the required books and actually thought about them – but I still cannot say any of them changed my life. In fact, Jurassic Park made me swear off Michael Chrichton in the 6th grade. I feel like I’ve done my time of penance in the classics and the modern literature that will be a classic twenty years from now. If I enjoyed it and was affected by it, wouldn’t I still be reading it?
On a side note, how has the word literature come to mean intellectual snobbery? Literature is anything written, right? You can find literature on the train schedule. You can publish literature on company policies. I have a sneaking suspicion that the capital “L” denotes a secret society of wannabe snobs that can only recognize each other by their Reader’s Digest vocabulary super-words and the fact that they can BS their way through a book conversation without ever letting on that they skimmed the book and read the book reviews online.
Back on topic, I have long held the belief that a writer’s job was to connect with the reader. The painter’s job was to connect with the viewer. That communication, whether verbal, written, or visual, is not complete until feedback is given and an emotion is inspired. Maybe this is a pop-psychology corporate training course’s idea – but somehow, I’ve made it through life believing this.
When I read a book I want to get into it. I want to be immersed in a world that is not my own and I want the imagery to grab a hold of me and not let me put down the book until the back cover closes. I don’t want just entertainment like the book snobs I read this morning suggested. Reading is more than a ‘movie’ experience for me. I come away with thoughts about the character’s growth and personality and personal beliefs. I think about the way experiences shape how the characters view the world around them. I want to know a little about their personal philosophy and how that dictates their reactions to events.
I want, for the few hours I’m involved with the author, for them to submerge me in a world that I can believe in.
It seems to me that many authors realize that they are going to have to write into a space where every reader will bring their own experiences and beliefs into the lines between their words. What I write here will not be interpreted by each reader identically. If I want to be precise, my language had better be precise and well thought out. If I want innuendo to exist and room for interpretation, I should think about what meanings I want to be attached and the best way to shape my words into what I want you to translate. Your translation essentially makes my writing good, bad, or simply blah. I want you to connect with me through an object as transient as a webpage and understand my heart, the world I have imagined, my experiences, and the world you let me pull you into for just a little while.
In my fiction, I write the way I like to read. I connect with my readers the same way I connect with authors I respond the best to. In my non-fiction, I try and make my articles entertaining and informative – no one is going to learn anything if they are so bored that all they can think about is the most recent episode of 24. In my blog entries, I want you to nod your head along even if you don’t agree with me (if only because you understand where I may be coming from) and feel welcome to comment.
In all of those, I want a discussion either directly or inside the bounds of your mind. I want my reader to say “why does she believe this?” or “why such an inflammatory statement?” and then keep reading to find out. I want my readers to come away satisfied that they found what they were looking for.
I believe that these ideas of connection between the author and reader are where classic fiction and the elitist fiction does not catch me the right way. (Visualize a fish caught by a hook through the eyeball. That’s not the right way.) I am fairly down to earth and I don’t appreciate people speaking over my head. I actually understand what they’re saying, but why make it so complex? Is it to make themselves look smarter or do these authors actually believe that using bigger words will make them more precise in their language?
Literary Lingo, though, is not precise except to those elitists who thrive on tweed jackets, expensive cigars, and looking down their nose at the commoner. I remember my mother refusing to let me say ‘discombobulate’ as a child because she did not believe I knew what it meant. I did. As a grown-up, I don’t believe she knew exactly what it meant but I do believe that she was saving me from playground ass-kickings. I don’t think we as a culture ever grow out of hating show-offs.
I do connect with popular genre fiction when it is well written. I am in my own right a snob, but that’s because I hold an author to the standard that I expect. I will not put a lot of energy in pushing myself under the water to find an author’s written world. I figure that if I can read at a post-graduate school level that authors worth my time and money should have the ability to write and communicate cohesively without obvious grammatical and spelling issues. (I do understand that with that statement I just kicked 3/4 of the blog world out of my reading list.)
I also crave a cultural connection with the author, through language, experience, and philosophy. What do I mean by that? Let’s choose Christian inspirational authors. Think of the difference between C. S. Lewis, Rob Bell, Max Lucado, and Rick Warren. All have been on the Christian best-seller’s list and all of them should be immediately recognizable names.
Who do you think I read? It’s not Max Lucado and Rick Warren. I do own their books but I’ve never actually finished one. I can’t actually tell if it’s the philosophy or language that I can’t follow, but something in me and something in them does not bond.
C. S. Lewis and Rob Bell are two of my favorite Christian authors. Actually, they are only bypassed by Don Miller of Blue Like Jazz (and others) and James Langteaux of God.com and God.net. Now, Rob Bell was probably not born by the time C. S. Lewis died so I’m reading two very different generational messages here – I’m sure that the western church Lewis saw was very different from the global church that Bell sees. However, both connect with me on that deep level that I need. I understand their analogies. I am drawn in by their language. I am swayed by their arguments and I am reaffirmed and strengthened in my beliefs. I am not reading words on a page – I am having a conversation with the author.
So what are your thoughts? Can modern must-read Literature be defined by a group of elite reviewers? Does money talk when defining the best of the good? Am I making any sense?