For all that I’m a compulsive reader, you could hardly call me a lover of “great literature”. Oh sure, I like Shakespeare, but understanding that mode of English was hardly a leap. My church gave out Bibles to its first graders when I was a kid and we got the King James Version1. So we were educated in Late Tudor/Early Stewart English from nearly babyhood.
But when I look at the books that really hit me between the eyes, that move me and that make me think/feel on a deeper level, they’re generally not considered “great literature”. Stranger in a Strange Land, the later Discworld novels, American Gods, Shogun, The Lord of the Rings... We’re talkin’ pop literature here.
And yet I’m so culturally (or perhaps emotionally) backwards and dense that this stuff does move me deeply. I find the climax of Wintersmith — a kid’s book, can move me to tears2.
I often struggle with the fact that my fiction isn’t very good. Sometimes I wonder if it is my taste in books. I wanna move people like I am moved by some works. I know of one person who admitted he cried at the end of Stranger in a Strange Land and have never known anyone who has spoken of Terry Prachett as doing anything other than be funny. Sure, Prachett is funny, but his best work3 isn’t a comic piece even if it does have humorous bits. It’s why I like him. He’s funny, but his stuff generally has a point.
Russian novels (sorry Prof. Barnstead) leave me clammy. The Brontë sisters? No. Oh, I like Dickens well enough. Mark Twain is amazing. But “serious literature”? Not so much. They don’t move me. They don’t inspire me. They don’t make me want to reach beyond myself.
But I like that stuff to be candy-coated, too. Inspirational literature as a genre makes me shudder. Mostly, I think, it’s because I can’t relate to the characters. I get John Blackthorne just fine. Granny Weatherwax or Sam Vimes and their personal struggles with themselves? Oh my goodness do I grok them!
I just don’t connect with what’s generally accepted as “great literature”. I wanna be told a story, be affected with pity and terror. I want something that moves me, even if it’s not all that highbrow.
1In spite of its translation faults, I still favor the KJV when reading the Bible. Early training, I expect, but it just sounds better.
2The last scene does, too, but that was meant for the Pratchett fans who are parents and would catch the power of that metaphor, I think.
3Nation, his latest. It’s really fantastic.