Friday, 26 April 2013

Literary fiction and Snobbery

I live in a city with a rich history of literature, indeed we have been named the UNESCO City of Literature. One thing that I notice however, is that despite being a writer, I don’t often feel welcome at writing events here.

My books are not literary, they never will be but that doesn’t mean that they are inherently without merit.

Reading anything, even rubbish, engages the whole brain, lowers Alzheimer causing protein, reduces stress and heart disease and may even improve empathy between cultures. Studies prove that reading tricks your brain into believing that you are engaged in the activities in your book, while watching TV, listening to music or playing video games are passive activities, which don’t stimulate the whole brain.

Books also increase happiness and stave off feelings of loneliness.

Research also shows that reading for just six minutes reduces  stress levels by over than two-thirds, which is more than walking or listening to  music.

A bestselling, non-literary novel
If that wasn’t enough, you also learn from books, even fictional books. As well as facts, you learn about new places, activities and cultures that you would otherwise not and as I said, functional MRIs show that your mind actually believes that you are actually doing those activities, creating new neural pathways in your brain.

Given all this, ALL books should be lauded, not just those deemed to have “literary merit”. I’ve put that in quotation marks because literary merit is actually hard to define. Basically it depends on people’s opinions, and opinions vary, even among the literati.

However, there is something else that needs to be considered and for that, I’ll use my own personal story.

Let me start by saying, I have nothing against literary fiction but I do find that its readers and writers tend to be snobs. I've heard "literary types" disparage things like Harry Potter and Dan Brown as trash and unworthy of being published. It seems to gall them that a commercial writer can make a shed of money when they aren't "literary" fiction. My English teacher once called Dean Koontz books "pap".

There is a place for literary fiction, but there is equally a place for all types of fiction.

When I was a very kid I used to have audio books accompanied by an illustrated magazine. They weren't graphic novels; there were pages of text mean to be read along with the cassette tapes, but also illustrations and bright colours. I grew out of them though and never found anything else I could enjoy in the same way. In school, I never read a single book or play we were assigned, but I was still intelligent enough to pass my tests from what we discussed in class. I just couldn't stand reading and if we had to read out loud in class, that was My Own Personal Nightmare.

I now realize that I was an undiagnosed dyslexic but before I discovered that fact, I discovered Star Trek tie in novels when I was 13/14. I was a wee bit obsessed with The Next Generation and so I finally had a reason to put the effort in and read a book. Then I was hooked, captivated by a story. I stayed up until 1am to finish that book. Then I branched out to other books, mainly horror (Hence my love for Koontz) and then further, to thrillers, chicklit, romance, historical, then to classics like Austen, Gaskell, and Charlotte Bronte. Now I will read almost any genre, as long as it has a good story.

Tie-in novels are basically the bottom of the literary heap, even worse that the romance books I write, because they are books written to order. It’s often clear that the writer is doing it for money and sometimes hasn’t even watched the show they’re writing about. Some I’ve read were so awful that I have given 1 star reviews to them (which I almost never do). But the thing is, if it wasn't for those ‘crappy’ tie-ins, I would never have then gone on to read those timeless classics.

The first book I read for pleasure
That’s why I call non-literary or 'bad' novels “gateway novels”, because they were my gateway to a whole new world of books, and I'm sure that must be true for other people too.

Maybe my books are the literary equivalent of reality TV but there is a place for them and as stated above, reading anything is better than reading nothing.

I don't go around saying that literary fiction is too highbrow, too difficult to read, too elitist and is therefore rubbish and should be banned, because I think there's a place for all types of books. 

Many literary types however, like to go around dissing the kinds of books that are the whole reason I ever took the trouble to try and read for pleasure. I found out in later life that my mum had suggested that I might be dyslexic to my school, and my headmistress (and English teacher) told her the condition didn't exist, so my chances of ever getting the professional help that I needed to learn to read well, were non-existent and if it hadn't been for those "crappy" books, I would never have had a reason to try, and so I wouldn't be either a reader or a writer today.

Since leaving school, reading has taught me far more about literature and language than my school ever managed, so why can’t the literati just realise that there is a place for all kinds of books in this world, and that lacking “literary merit” doesn’t mean that readers don’t get all the reading associated benefits that I’ve spoke of above.

Reading should always be encouraged and no one should be made to feel lesser than others, just because of their preferred reading material isn't deemed to be literary.


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  2. I agree. I read a lot of light weight romances as I was growing up. They helped me survive school. I read some serious literature, too, but I gravitate to lighter fiction. I love a good escape.

    1. Don't we all. I wouldn't care if my kids read Harry Potter or Tolstoy, just as long as they were reading.