The Blue Bookcase.
You might have noticed my blog title is Wildly Read, tagline: Wildly, if not widely, read. Yes, I do blog about children’s books, mass market romances, non-fiction, and whatever else happens to catch my reading fancy, but I also read and blog about my more traditionally literary tastes, and so make the case that I be allowed to participate in the Literary Blog Hop.
This week’s question I think is particularly apropos to me as I’ve been sharing around a link to a Telegraph article spoofing the “Top 50 blank before you die” lists.
The question: Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the affect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it.
My answer: Yes and no. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Personally, I’m predisposed to both like and dislike books based on a variety of factors, among them when and where and from whom I first heard of the book, whether the book was assigned reading at some point, and where I was when I was reading the book (IF I read it). Ultimately, though, the more a book is talked about, the less inclined I am to pick it up, here comes the perverse part, even though I might want to. Chalk it up to a continued post-adolescent problem with authority, or maybe it’s a hangover from those days when if everyone else was doing it, I wanted to do the exact opposite. Whatever the reason, it’s rare that a hyped book becomes a book in-hand.
Then there’s the fact that while I was in high school, I felt a general disdain for books (like Catcher in the Rye) where I was assigned to read it in three different classes (I went to three different high schools, long story), never read it once, and never got lower than a B on any test or paper I had to take or write on it. If I was able to pass with a B based on the knowledge gleaned from the chatter of my peers and the heavy-handed class discussions led by my teachers, was the book really worth reading in the first place? I think not.
Fortunately or unfortunately, this feeling followed me into college and grad school where I can now admit (though I doubt this will come as a shock to any former classmates or professors reading this) that there were many canonical books I never read and somehow managed not to fail those classes. I don’t say this proudly (really), but it does make me question the validity of the canon.
WHY is a book canonical? What puts it on that list? Oh yes, people give various explanations for that all the time, everything from cultural impact (Harry Potter and Twilight), to language (Dickens to David Foster Wallace), to social, political, and economic commentary (everyone from Mark Twain to Tolstoy). Top 50 to 100 to 1000 lists of books abound in every subject matter (including this one from the BBC that was a viral Facebook meme for a while – here’s my tally: A whopping 53 books read, 1/3 of Shakespeare, 1/2 of Rebecca, and parts of the Bible, with only 8 titles I’ve never heard of). My conclusion from all of this? They’re a starting point, nothing more, nothing less.
Give yourself the privilege of forming your own opinion, of putting a book down if you’re not liking it, and of not feeling like you’re not a well-read book lover if you haven’t read The Brothers Karamazov in the original Russian.