What we Like vs. What the Literatti Think We Should Like?

If you watch much (or any) PBS programming, you might have noticed a call to vote in The Great American Read poll.

What’s interesting is what people actually like. Spoiler alert – genre fiction and great stories, as well as books we read as kids. Not necessarily “great literature” or “good prose.” (From The Wall Street Journal “The Way We Read Now”)

I’ve read 33 of the titles or series on the list. Very few of the literature titles, fewer of the translated literature titles, but many of the genre books. OK, not Wheel of Time. There’s epic fantasy and “is this series over yet?” epic fantasy. Yes, I’m a wimp. 🙂

H/T The Passive Voice

Edited to add: For the book-list, go to the first link. The Passive Voice link is to an excerpt from the paywalled article. I apologize. The article was still “in the wild” when I posted, and I have not been able to find a good cached free version or a way around the wall.

19 thoughts on “What we Like vs. What the Literatti Think We Should Like?

  1. I also liked this paragraph from the WJS article, especially the last line:

    “Perhaps, for many readers, it does not make much difference whether a story is told in print on a page or images on a screen. The narrative itself is what matters. In fact, the Great American Read list confirms that there is a great hunger in our culture for grand, mythic narratives. The adoration of the Harry Potter books, like the nearly scriptural status of the Star Wars movies, involves more than just fandom. These are comprehensive universes, complete with their own laws and histories, heroes and villains, morals and meanings. They serve the purpose that was once served by epic poems like “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey,” or even by biblical stories: They dramatize the spiritual truths and longings that shape our world.”

    As for Roth, I remember that the first few pages of “Portnoy’s Complaint” disgusted me so much I swore I’d not ever read anything by him. Fortunately it was a library book so I wasn’t out any money. 😉

    1. Roth always struck me as one of those writers whose primary inspiration is his own mirror and who has very little interest in anything other than that view. I’ve started a few books by him but never finished one. I guess I’m just not as interested in Philip Roth as Philip Roth is.

    1. I’ve not been able to find a good link that doesn’t requiring downloading an ap or changing something on your browser. The Passive Voice has a chunk of the WSJ article, reproduced under Fair Use. I’ll keep hunting.

    2. Go through your search engine (search for the article title).

      Although I admit that I haven’t read the whole thing myself. I stumbled at the “Lord of the Rings” as a children’s fantasy. Nope, nope, nope. “The Hobbit,” yes.

      Narnia I am willing to give them – although reading those as an adult, after a reasonable study of Christian thought, there is a whole other series of adult level novels under cover of the child level prose. (Harry Potter, maybe a quarter to a third of that.)

      Alice (of Wonderland and the Looking Glass), okay. Although for an adult geek partial to logic problems…

    1. The literati prefers that we keep reaing what WE like. That way they remain the literati.

      1. Really, if we liked the same stuff the glorious ones like they’d have to change to remain special.

  2. Most of those on the PBS list I haven’t read. Of the ones I have read, I hated many of them. Split Moby Dick in two and it isn’t a bad read. But as it stands, I’ll never pick it up again. The Lovely bones was horrid, I don’t understand what people see in the story.

    1. I read Moby Dick translated, first as a very abridged and illustrated children’s book and then later as a somewhat abridged book for older boys. Loved it both times, and wished that it had been longer. Thus I picked up the Old man and the Sea but thought it hould have been way shorter and with better story.( Old man catches fish, goes home and either dies or becomes rich)

    2. The Lovely Bones is probably more appealing if you’re into mysteries and thrillers (which I am, and I liked the book.) It’s also a useful depiction of how a family falls apart after a horrible incident, and how it can rebuild.

  3. And the other day, I was moved to remark…

    “Hemingway’s writing is the literary equivalent of Brutalist architecture.”

    Plug in the writer of your unchoice.

  4. I hit the paywall, too, so I’m not sure what’s on the list. Although I’m curious as to how many I’ve read, it’s not a big deal. The older and crankier I get, the less I care what anyone thinks about what I choose to read. I’ll read what I want, and I don’t care if it’s looked down on or politically incorrect.

    1. If you click the Great American Read, it takes you to PBS’s site and the list. I’m still trying to find around the paywall.

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