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Articles > Rant November, 19, 2015

This Is Why We’re Reading That “Pretentious Rubbish”

Adam Young
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6.53 / 10

Why do we read literature that’s “Pretentious Rubbish”? That was the question raised by Josh Davis in his article a few days ago. It was an understandable, yet foolish question.

He may as well be asking “Why do we read any book?” or “Who are we to judge what is good?” Well, I’ve decided to make a fine rebuttal to Mr Davis (As he will now be referred to in this article) to his mistreatment to the books that have stood the test of time.

English literature: This is why we read of mice and men

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Before I start though, I would like to emphasize that I am just as biased as Mr Davis in literature taste. I’ll openly admit, I get no enjoyment out of the “Hunger Games” or “Twilight”. I think they are dreadful in comparison to something like “Far From the Madding Crowd” or “Fathers & Sons” which, what I think, truly are the most enjoyable books in existence.

Now back to my good old fashioned literature kicking. The original article argues and suggests that we should measure “Great” literature in the fashion of democracy. In the fact that the more books sold equals, or makes superior, to something that hasn’t sold as well. That is a ridiculous assumption. We don’t measure “Greatness” on the majority. If it was the case. We would have a Big Mac topping caviar, Avatar topping Citizen Kane, and Adam Sandler would top Groucho Marx. No logical thinking person would genuinely think that is a perfect system to measure quality. I certainly don’t.

Just because something is popular now, does not make it so in the future. Quite frankly, in 50 years, some books that are popular now will be forgotten. The many books of the “Young Adult” Craze that we now have, such as Hunger Games or Divergent, will be most definitely lost to the past just as the many detective books that were made in the wake of the success of Sherlock Holmes, such as “Richard Hannay” or “Four Just Men” have been forgotten. Hunger Games is no Tale of Two Cities that’s for sure and it won’t be remembered as such.

Neither of us are eligible to decide. He is an A Level student as am I. I think the greatest writer ever is Rudyard Kipling. – I know for a fact I can’t decide what the syllabus should be.

So if it isn’t rampant populism or Mr Davis or even myself to decide what is Great literature, who does? Well, I think the fastest way is the measure of influence a book (or author) has had on his fellow authors, and those who are qualified to decide what makes a book good or not. For example critics and academics. As such Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Austen and many others that are already on the syllabus would be considered “Great Literature” as they have influenced Tolstoy, Dickens, Orwell and many other authors who are also admired by our esteemed literary critics. Sales play no part in literary influence. The vast majority of us aren’t authors after all.

And of course we don’t all enjoy what we read at school, I hate Austen. I Find her clunky and disgustingly too English that it makes me want to dig her up and bash her with her own shinbone. Am I glad I read her though? No doubt. I understand what a great impact she has done for us and if forced to, I would gladly read Pride & Prejudice again.

Whether we like it or not at the time. Steinbeck, Bennett & many others need to be read. We are the future scholars of English after all. The future journalists, authors, critics and book lovers. It’s not about what we most enjoy at the time in our youthfulness. It’s about building a vast knowledge of great literature, people like us need to build some standards in taste. We should not degrade ourselves to what is quite simply; Pop Fiction.

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  1. Lee Hampson

    Not perfect, but a good response. I think I’ll just throw in the fact that Hunger Games is an awful plagarism of Battle Royale – a much better book worth both a read and a consideration of the socio-political climate it was written in.

  2. John Halkett

    I think…that we can agree to disagree it is called maturity. We can be young once although we can be immature all our lives.

  3. Liesl Chesworth

    It is all subjective, although for me, the fact that I’ve learned more from ‘pretentious’ books whilst studying them than pop fiction like The Hunger Games (which I think is a load of twaddle to be honest) is surely a good reason as to why they’re being studied to begin with. I’d much sooner read something ‘pretentious’ and have it alter my perspective on a subject than analyse a more modern text that tries so so hard to be profound but fails miserably.

  4. I agree with you, Adam (and Far From The Madding Crowd is great; I love Thomas Hardy). Although The Hunger Games and the like are hugely popular and have fulfilled the requirements of their own genre (young adult fiction) I highly doubt that these books will be remembered in the future. ‘Pretentious’ literary books are called ‘classics’ for a reason; as Italo Calvino states, classics are books that never finish saying what they have to say.

  5. Jacob Bathgate

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

  6. James Murray

    Good point, Avatar broke box-office records, yet more people remember the avatar cartoon with fonder memories. Much like how Divergent may sell more copies than Catcher in the Rye, but I’ll always remember Holden Caulfield more than… Who’s in Divergent?