Header art by Pedro Lucena.

Warning: file_get_contents(http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=from:litdrift&rpp=1) [function.file-get-contents]: failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.0 401 Unauthorized in /home/litdrift/webapps/wp/wp-content/themes/scarlett/robotsez.php on line 29
Updates, top stories & our favorite links straight to your inbox.


Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp

The Significance of “Soft” Novels from a Young Man’s Perspective

Andrew Boryga / Tuesday, December 22, 2009 Comments Off
Just one of many negative perspectives of the Twilight saga.

Just one of many negative perspectives of the Twilight saga.

An ambitious sophomore in high school three years ago, I checked out Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Striving to seem mature and sophisticated, I lugged the book around for over a month. It was the hardest read of my entire life. The worst part is I had no clue as to its significance. Grasping the bare bones of the plot, I knew there was more the novel wanted to communicate.

Sure, one reason I didn’t catch the significance was because I was a sophomore in high school. In my first year of college though, I’ve discovered I’m not the only person confused. There are whole courses devoted to Dostoyevsky and The Brothers Karamazov; the underlying significances, symbols, motifs and so on.

Maybe I should’ve stuck to Harry Potter like the rest of my classmates.

In my short time, it seems the literary world places most value on novels with human messages, even more so on novels taking long intricate routes to get to those messages. However, it seems the literary world also tends to cast novels not adhering to such standards as a “literature of diversion” as Jonathan Franzen puts it.

At school, literary high brows’ nostrils flare at the sight of a Twilight or Harry Potter novel. “That’s not real literature,” they say. I’m not a fan of genre novels myself, but I think my fellow undergrads and the literary community are wrong for totally writing off such novels.

Sure, Harry Potter might not bring the same intellectual satisfaction as say Catcher in the Rye might, however, the novel still functions as entertainment, and from my experience, serves a vital function for lackadaisical readers.

At college––an ivy league one to boot––I expected to find a number of students sharing my love for literature. I was disappointed. Instead I met too many students who hadn’t picked up a book in years. The disheartening fact is that the majority of people my age simply don’t enjoy reading.

I know it’s horrible.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed the ones who do read commonly leaf through the very genre novels we tend to cast down. This is where problems with these genre novels begin; the common argument being that they’re replacing the “good” literature that should be read.

I’d argue the opposite.

I say these “soft” novels if you will, provide two crucial functions.

One, they attract young readers like myself into the habit of reading at all by providing entertainment. They’re like the summer movies we look forward to every year that are forgotten by October. And even though they might not have significant messages, at the very least they get pages turning. I think as a literary community we can agree that some reading––even arguably “useless” reading––is better than no reading at all.

Two, these novels serve as building blocks to more intellectual novels. We all know how great of an experience reading can be, and for those who don’t read often, if they can get that same experience out of something that may not make them a more learned person––so be it. It might inspire them to continue reading for pleasure, maybe even picking up some Dostoyevsky in the future.

These books don’t hurt the literary world either way. They don’t have life-changing messages, but they also don’t have harmful ones. They serve momentary purposes.

So next time you’re set to bash Twilight or Harry Potter, think about what Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass said, “even bad books are books, and therefore sacred.”

.

[Image Credit]

  • Digg
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
More: Audiences / Rants
  • http://www.calebjross.com Caleb J Ross

    Amen. Some even go so far as to say that the younger generation, having grown up with the internet, read MORE than older generations. If you consider that so much of internet usage involves reading. True, they aren’t reading narratives, but the words are still guiding them.

    The trick to instilling a love of reading is to find an enjoyable book. For many, that’s the Twilights and the Harry Potters of the world. Me, I didn’t enjoy reading until late high school, when I found Frankenstein. Before that, reading was for nerds.

    Encourage reading in all its forms.

  • Kate

    I agree. It seems to me to be a matter of locating the bridge from the light to more serious literature. For instance, a reader who is interested by the moral dilemma (vampire v. human nature) that plagues the Cullens or Louis from _The Vampire Chronicles_ might also find herself absorbed in the story of Raskolnikov.

    My sister is a college-aged Twilight fan. I read the first two books in the series out of curiosity, being a casual fan of Ann Rice and Charlaine Harris. She picked them up idly and then unexpectedly turned all Team Edward overnight. She subsequently surprised me by taking up a copy I had lent her of _Dracula_, which I can admit is a tough sell these days despite being a personal favourite of mine. I also got her into Neil Gaiman, having convinced her that she would love _Good Omens_ since she likes the _Hitchhiker’s Guide_ series, and the rest of his oeuvre pretty much sells itself. The point is, I can allow myself to be dragged to any number of Volturi Vampire Balls for the chance to bond over literature with my sister.

    In _Beowulf on the Beach_, Jack Murnighan muses on the state of literary education in America–he’s of the opinion that younger teenagers are done a disservice by being forced to slog through works that are best appreciated by perspicacious adults. This was in the context of his discussion of _Great Expectations_. I take his point; I read it for the first time and consider myself a fangirl for life of Dickens now, whereas I sulked my way through _Oliver Twist_ in ninth grade, despite being an avid reader of all levels of literature from an early age. It’s a very interesting issue.

  • JoniB

    A lot of people quit reading because of high school classes that analyze books to death and take all the fun of reading right out of them. This was my experience. My English teacher preached: Never read for fun or escape! It was YEARS before I picked up another book and I read it for escape. And I LIKED IT!

  • http://www.imsorrythebook.com/ R. D. Allen

    Exactly! The point is that it instills a love of reading in children. That’s who they were written for, by the way. CHILDREN. TEENAGERS. They weren’t made to be analyzed to death. They were written to be enjoyed, to make someone laugh or smile, to experience the literary world. Maybe for the first time in years. Those books aren’t BAD. I still feel moved by them, if not as much as, say, Lord of the Rings or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. But you can’t judge across age gaps! A kid might read and understand these novels, but they’re not expected to.

    Appreciate books the way they are, instead of expecting them to be something more. I actually find it nice to read a “soft” novel, every once in a while. It’s soothing and I enjoy the break. Gunter Grass has the very idea. Books are sacred, an art, and should be treated like such.

blog comments powered by Disqus
10 minutes