Why do literary novels that win "prestigious" awards have to be so blasted dry, dull and depressing? My solitary book club member only comes to meetings when we read the books she wants to be read...and she only wants to read the novels that win BIG literary awards because "you are forced to think and change your perspective."
There's a general assumption that if something isn't dry and depressing, then it isn't "serious" and therefore isn't worthwhile. My sons' school has a big, big problem with this. The older sister of one of their friends wrote her college essay "In Defense of Happy Endings" because she was so frustrated. My younger son has been writing essays in a similar vein. They had to read not one, but two novels by Toni Morrison in English this year. There's nothing like infanticide in the first chapter to really liven up your read.
One of the librarians was complaining to me that for summer reading, a kid's committee had picked Divergent (soon to be a major moving picture.) Even that wasn't serious enough for them, despite being entirely relevant to the lives of teenagers. I didn't tell her that my younger son was a driving force on that committee. The committee picked Hitchiker's Guide for last summer and there was a lot of griping from the English department that they couldn't figure out how to teach it. For some reason, they couldn't manage to find any character development, or indeed any characterization in the book at all. I'm not an English teacher and I could have found something to teach from that book -- how about the use of the absurd in satire? Why is Arthur Dent a good foil for Zaphod? Compare the satire of Adams' work with that of Swift, or of Lewis Carrol -- how is satire different in the 21st century from the 18th or 19th century? In fact, a whole compare-and-contrast between Alice, Dent and Gulliver would be great.
The last faculty-picked summer reading was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which has a fascinating subject, but turns out to be far more about the author than about Henrietta Lacks. It should have been titled My Journey to Find Myself and What I Found About Henrietta Lacks On The Way. But it was serious and therefore good.
And then there's the people who forget that the *purpose* of fiction is to tell a story
, not to bedazzle with the artistic use of English (or whatever language the story is originally written in). I know I have had this sort of conversation several times w/ respect to the Harry Potter books--people who sneer at them because "they're not well-written" or "not real literature" ... but whatever criticisms can be laid against the books, it is really hard to deny that JK Rowling told a story about characters that people started to care about, pretty much from page 1.
I've also read the first two books in the Divergent
series--I liked it very much (although I don't want to read the third one, but I probably will because my daughter wants it for her birthday, she already owns the first two). Very thought provoking, and again you find yourself dragged into the world that was created by the author.
Funny enough--middle son, last year, had been assigned to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
, and he brought it home. I tried to read it, but found myself bored to tears. I just never did get to the point of giving a fig newton about anyone I "met" in the story.
I end up reading a lot of YA fiction, and I am frequently finding that the storytelling within is superb, and every one of them one that I would read again before picking up One Hundred Years of Solitude
again ... I read that, but again, never really did find myself getting engaged with the characters. Really good fiction can tackle tough subjects, even change minds about things (To Kill a Mockingbird
), but I think that fiction written to be "important" or "literary" tends to miss that whole story-telling element. And by that standard (good storytelling), Harry Potter novels absolutely *are* great fiction.