Saturday, May 14, 2011

What books have you read that have been hyped as literary and, in your opinion, were not?

"literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes what qualifies as "literary" is whether it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure.”

I started thinking about this and without a moments hesitation went straight for my comfort zone, that position we all have, like some big old comfy chair & with less than a seconds doubt reached, guns blazing for the usual suspects that I pull out when questions of this nature surface. Bang bang down went Dickens. Kerpow, next Austen and without even pausing, (bandanna askew) screaming with all the subtle nuance of a faux Rambo, I reached for a fresh bandolier before emptying both barrels into Potter & his ilk. But…… the question was still there and like some barghest, the Ladies of the Blue Bookcase had sent to trail after me, made me reappraise this stock response, made me pause & think what I really felt. Admittedly this hasn’t changed my dislike of the above mentioned brethren of Beelzebub, just made me aware that this had nothing to do with their perceived literary merit, which in my usual circuitous fashion has brought me back to the question – “What books have you read that have been hyped as literary and, in your opinion, were not?”- The simple answer is “ I haven’t any”. It’s not how I choose books, I may find out later that this book was the saviour of the human race, or that it was personally responsible for the extinction of several rare fauna, but at the time my decision is based purely on some ill-defined quality I saw in the particular book. In fact the term “Literary” can kill a book, there are stacks of books that are considered as though they were some giant edifice, Everest-like their climbing is a once in a lifetime feat,  “just not today”, or are thought of as too literary & “not for the likes of me” with the end result being what could have been a wonderful relationship with a book or writer is stifled before it has even a chance to blossom, this to me is the greater crime, we can all stand the disappointment of the odd overhyped script, give it a week and it will be replaced by a plethora of new titles, but a book ignored or placed  perpetually on the TBR, booked for a date sometime close to your last hail Marys, is a book close to it’s own death.

4 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

It is funny that you should mention this as I have had exactly this problem today. I've just finished The Whisperer which stated it was a 'literary thriller' on the cover. It wasn't. The writing was average and it contained none of the deeper symbolism I'd expect from a book labelled as literary. I'm not sure why they'd do that as I'm sure the word 'literary' will put off a few people and anyone buying the book on that basis will be disappointed.

Loni said...

I almost had the same opinion, but then, finally, thought of one.

James said...

I love your literary "Rambo" style and my thoughts regarding my reading are similar to a point. Nonetheless the more I think over this question the more examples (few, but memorable in their failure) come to mind.

Tom Cunliffe said...

We're talking about quality here I suppose. Hyped up can mean a good publicist rather than mass acclaim from readers. There are an awful lot of "The Emperor has no clothes" syndrome books out there! Alas, too many of them arrive through my letter box