This week, I saw an opinion post on one of my favorite sites expressing dislike for the term “serious reader” and its connotations. If even Dr. B on BookRiot (who has a DOCTORATE in “serious reading”) is pointing out that there’s something wrong with the way reading is approached by the “academics”, then it’s probably something that a lot of people have been talking about lately. Maybe it’s really a cause for concern.
Maybe instead of focusing on WHAT to read, we should try to pay attention to HOW we read and WHY we read. Reading is, after all, a way of understanding the world.
Much besides, forcing a book, poem, or essay on people “because it’s better than that trash they’re reading” is one surefire way of alienating people from the wonders of a really good piece of text. And nothing is more horrible than that.
At this point, I’d like to thank my Daddy for inspiring and encouraging my (occasionally unhealthy) reading habits. It made reading and learning a whole lot of fun.
That was the first thing one of my favorite professors asked my class back when I was in college. And despite having spent four years studying, examining, and reading examples of Literature, I find myself here – almost 10 years after the question was asked, still struggling with its definition.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I actually do know how to define Literature – it’s an artful presentation of significant aspects of human life, through text. I know what it looks like, based on all the readings my classmates and I had to go through back then (some of them are actually still studying if not teaching Lit one way or another). For all intents and purposes, I know how to differentiate a supposedly “literary” work from other kinds of written work.
The problem is that I think (in my heart of hearts) that the delineation is bullshit.
There, I said it.
I’ve become really uncomfortable with the disdain with which a lot of Literary scholars seem to treat certain genre of fiction (did that sentence make sense at all?).* It’s as if works of science fiction, romance, and fantasy have no intellectual merit whatsoever, even when they do. See, let’s go back to that definition:
It’s an artful presentation of significant aspects of human life, through text.
In what way does this definition EXCLUDE genre fiction and the like? If there’s anything I’ve learned during my four exhausting but fulfilling years in Literature, it’s that practically anything can be literary if you know how to read it.
In fact, that definition I laid out up there has become more complicated since the word text started to encompass anything from advertisements to architecture (I’m not kidding). In other words, they can fall under Literature too.
As far as I can figure, what makes Literature truly literary in the eyes of scholars is the sheer number of layers you can attribute to text. That’s all well and good. But I have issues with the idea that some specific types of text don’t have layers at all.
After all, WE AS THE READERS are the ones who find the layers; each of us has the ability to determine the profundity of each piece of text that we have the fortune (or misfortune) or reading. The way I see it, Literature can’t be unanimously defined. Not anymore.
At the end of the day, what Literature actually is is a reflection of us: our aspirations, our fears, our time; the themes of our own humanity. It’s different for every person, so maybe we should stop TELLING people that they’re reading the wrong things. Instead, I think we should just share what we like to read and hope to heck that piece of us inspires other people.**
So to all of you folks out there who’ve told me that I’m wasting time and intelligence reading stuff that aren’t high-brow, I’d like to say: enjoy your Ivory Tower. I’m sure you’re very happy condescending to people from up there while the rest of us are enjoying the weather.
* Lemme just clarify that I’m not talking about my former professors and peers in the literary circles here. I’m talking about actual literary snobs who look down on you for not reading everything F. Sionil Jose (and the other Literary Greats) wrote, the ones who look down on you because *gasp* YOU LIKE POPULAR FICTION MORE THAN MILAN KUNDERA. The folks I hung out with were cool enough to let me treat Tarot cards as text. Or let me argue the literary merits of graphic novels, comic books, and manga.
** I also want to say that I still think that there are some books that, in my opinion, AREN’T worth reading. But if other people find a strange kind of meaning to the Twilight series, who am I to judge? As long as they don’t force it on me, I won’t give a shit; they can read anything they want. I just want to read whatever the hell it is I want to read too, without other people telling me how shallow Neil Gaiman is because he writes fantasy and children’s books.
Lemme tell you a (clearly not-so-well-kept) secret: I’m considering getting back into writing more literary fare. That is to say, I’m thinking of getting back into writing fiction. Or poetry. Or whatever it is I thought I was writing when I was about 18.
Okay, technically most of that was fanfiction. But I stand by my assertion that some of them can be considered high literature.
*cough* Anyway, as I was saying: I’m thinking of getting back into writing more creative stuff. It’s not that my job as a web copywriter doesn’t allow me to be creative; it’s just that I feel that none of the creativity I’ve been using has ever been truly mine. Thus, this sudden return to a hobby that I’m really not sure I can accommodate given all the stuff I’ve already put on my plate.
That is why, to start things off, I read some of my on-and-off attempts at writing my own stories for the last five years. Needless to say…
I wish I were kidding, but I think all my attempts at writing fiction are stilted and uncomfortable (like two drunken virgins with a copy of the Kama Sutra). My poetry is slightly better, but I’m so straightforward and get too wrapped up in the sound of the words to ever be truly called a poet (according to that one poetry forum I visit). I’d share them with you right now, but I don’t want to inflict the horror of my work on you.
Clearly, I needed to do something.
So I got back on WordPress
I admit that what I’m writing on this blog isn’t even vaguely novel-ish, and I hardly even talk about poetry (except for that one Maya Angelou post – god, I took myself way too seriously back then, didn’t I?). But at least I’m making a conscious effort to write something that has very little to do with my day job. It’s also given me the chance to look around and find some interesting stuff that might be helpful to me.
I recently ran across a writing challenge that the blogger MechanisticMoth set for himself (among my favorite items so far are “Zodiac Sign” and “My Pets“). I think simple challenges like this can help me get my creative juices flowing. Right now, I’m only putting most of my responses to this challenge in a tiny notepad I carry around with me. But if anyone else is doing a writing challenge on their blogs, I’d like to see them.
I found this interesting blog post about plotting fiction stories. Given how disorganized I tend to be when trying to write stories, I’m really excited about this. The blog itself is new, and I don’t know when it’s gonna be updated.
I also started looking for resources that can help me with my writing
I started browsing sites for (free) writing tips that might be able to help me get started on novel writing (I’ve decided that poetry as a whole can be way too scary for someone who’s just starting out again). I already have a decent idea for a novel (or so my sister says); all I need is some guidance for constructing a plot.
So far, I have found:
Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal. So far, it looks like he has some of the most useful essays on the essential components of a genre novel I have ever seen before. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the author of The Dresden Files, which I am more than a little bit in love with at the moment. For the last few days, I’ve been making notes for my novel using his tips. So far, it has been painless. I’m sure that’ll change as soon as I actually start writing this thing.
An ebook copy of Linda Lavid’s On Creative Writing. I’ve been reading it on-and-off, and I’m starting to realize that it can be helpful to my writing too, though I suspect that this is better for stories that don’t fall under the usual “popular” genres. I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I want to try this out too.
Now for the big questions:
Would anyone out there like to read my new, potentially horrible, attempts at Literature? Because if there are people out there who want to risk their sanity, I’m perfectly willing to post some of the stuff I produce. Probably in another blog I’m thinking of setting up. I also want to know, do you know any other free resource I can use for my writing attempts?
Seriously, guys. I wanna know if the horror of my work deserves to be out here.
This post was originally written in June 24, 2009, as part of the original Reading in Between blog (which went a little off-track).
About a couple of weeks ago, one of my upperclassmen from college (thanks, Ate Karen) posted a link to an article about a most fascinating experiment by an Israeli newspaper. Essentially, what happened was that the editor of Haaretz – an influential Israeli newspaper – decided that for one day, the paper will be written almost entirely by the great poets and authors of Israel. The result, as I understood it, was nothing short of spectacular. It was well-received by the readers, and it was clear that the poets and authors themselves have quite enjoyed the exercise (the journalists thought the experiment interesting, but seemed to be defensive). The whole of the article shared can be found here. Continue reading →