Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Literature and me
So, this past weekend my daughter saw The Great Gatsby in the theater, and totally loved it. Which brought the subject of “literature” up between my wife and me. And during the discussion, I came to a conclusion: I’m not a “literature” guy.
I consider myself reasonably well-read and literate. I can read, comprehend, and define the merits of the “classics” with the best of them. But, I simply don’t enjoy them. Therefore, unless required to for some class, I don’t read them.
In my early college career, I often pondered why we have to read them at all. I never liked Dickens, wasn’t really fond of Twain or Hemingway, and for the longest time I couldn’t understand Shakespeare to save my life. Well, today I still avoid Dickens like the plague, and I haven’t read Twain or Hemingway in years. But I get Shakespeare a bit better now, mainly because I have learned how to read him (though I still don’t really like to, as plays are supposed to be viewed not read, in my opinion). I can certainly see their literary merits and value. But, these works just don't do much for me.
So, when discussing literature with anyone who is knowledgeable on the subject, I often find myself on the “unenlightened” end of the conversation. There is a whole laundry list of classics that I have never read, and probably never will: The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, Les Miserables, Moby Dick, to name but a few. Even some of the “adventure” fiction of the past kind of doesn’t do it for me, but I will probably still try to finish them. Books like The Three Musketeers (as well as Dumas' other works) and The Last of the Mohicans. Both of which I have started, but never finished.
I guess when it comes down to it, I’m pretty simple-minded. I don’t like a lot of excessive detail, or the focus being on anything other than the plot and the main characters. I don’t care much for “high brow” literary language, and am kind of turned off by heavy-handed political and social commentary, unless that is the whole purpose of the story. Even some of the books I have enjoyed have pushed the boundaries in that regard (like Starship Troopers). Also, if the book has more than 300 pages, it better be a damn exciting read.
For me, “classic” means Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Jack London, and if you want to get really poetic, Beowulf, and the Eddas (though some of them are hard for me to get into as well). I love fantasy and science fiction the most, but a good mystery is always fun.
That is not to say that I shun all "classic" literature. I really enjoyed Treasure Island, and Orwell's 1984 is one of the most relevant and provocative books ever written.
Generally speaking, when I read fiction (and as a History major, even some non-fiction) I want to hear a story. I want to feel like I am there. That the narrator is relating the story by highlighting the best parts, and keeping me interested. I want action and suspense, and a good dose of danger is always welcome. I want dialogue that I can hear as clear as if I were standing there listening to the conversation. I not only want the characters to be relatable, but the language in which their story is told to be as well. I don’t want to be preached at heavily, or given a lesson (unless that is the point of the book, of course).
In short, I am still 15 years old in some ways, and I have no use for your snobby works of art. Entertain me, or go home.