Well, I don’t know about all of you – but I’m blazing along in my goodreads.com challenge to read fifty books this year. I’m already up to 2! I’m actually planning on doing two book reviews up here in the coming weeks since I have a lot of feelings about these babies and even a few thoughts. ;)
In the vein of literature, it occurred to me the other day that there are quite a few commonalities between sensational writing and poetry. Done right, both make you clutch your chest with feels, gag in disgust, weep in agony, or fan your face to tamp down that blush. Why then, is sensational poetry not held in the same intellectual contempt as sensational literature?
Why doesn’t Byron get flack for being too sensational, but, say, Edgar Rice Burroughs does? If you’re reading a novel, and you are suddenly overcome and must hide your face in the pillow because you can’t bear to read whether or not the protagonist survives the chapter… I call that good writing. However, over the years, scholars and intellectuals have told us, ‘No. No. That is merely sensational writing. Here, have some of Plato or maybe a Greek play. Better yet, read Moby Dick.’
Well, excuse me. I’m a little steamed. Why isn’t ‘sensational’ writing considered ‘classical literature’ in the high-brow sense? Shouldn’t the point of writing be about making the reader feel something? Back when it was invented, that was the point of the old Greek plays and poems. Those were inspiring and devastating and certainly very sensational (Oedipus, anyone? A shocker of a plot twist, that).
So why is it that we now consider Moby Dick or To Kill a Mockingbird to be ‘classic’? Because they made a splash at the time, doesn’t mean they do now. There are a lot of books like that, books that make your eyeballs dry while you search the dusty pages for some genuine human emotion. Sure, you’ll probably even find some – we are all human, after all, no matter how many centuries stretch between us and the birth of any given story. But classics, in the most pretentious sense, always seem to be a bit hit-or-miss to my mind, because they may have had a bit too much time.
Shakespeare! Now, that man was sensational. Firstly, no one had every done anything as complicated as he did in terms of human complexity of character. Secondly, he had bears running around mauling people and lies and insanity and shocking character deaths (and shocking character resurrections). Can he be boring to the modern reader? Yes. Do I, personally, fangirl over Hamlet? Just ask my new infinity scarf printed with the entire famous soliloquy.
When did we decide that literature – ‘classic’ literature – wasn’t supposed to be sensational? Was it the Victorians with all those characters and dusty plot lines (Dickens, I’m lookin’ at you, here)? Did all that study of dead language and all that psychological repression make them incapable of ascribing sensational literature the title of ‘classic’? Maybe we inherited it from them. I don’t know. Maybe the elites said, ‘Oh, it has to be read into the literature, and you must be smart enough to do it yourself.’
Don’t feel guilty for picking up a YA book or a best-seller instead of something dusty and leatherbound (bibliophile speaking here, just give me all your leatherbound volumes, please – I will take good care of them).
Writers write for readers to feel things. If a classic doesn’t make you feel things, put it down and try something that does, but don’t for one second feel like a lesser person for it. Readers read to feel things, and that’s the whole point: get the right book for the job.
And if you’re feeling the need for a bit more drama in the highbrow department… you should really try the Old Testament. Specifically the court of King David and those stories. That’s some crazy level sensational stuff right there. From the shepherd boy who took down the big guy with a slingshot to the death of the king and the political drama which followed, it’s never a dull ride. ;)