I mean, this thing about Real Literature vs Genre.
But I like this post by Ursula Le Guin. Who also knows this is not a new thing:
“I keep telling myself that I’m done writing about Literature vs Genre, that that vampire is buried at the crossroads with a stake in its heart and garlic in its coffin. And then it pops up again, undead. Its latest revival is a cheery one in an entertaining article, “Easy Writers,” in the May 28 New Yorker by Arthur Krystal . . .”
And then in the course of taking apart Krystal’s article (which he sure deserves: “Good Bad Books”, honestly, I ask you), she makes the single best suggestion I’ve ever heard for how to deal with the customary elevation of “Literary novels” and the denigration of genre:
“To get out of this boring bind, I propose an hypothesis: Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it . . . Literature consists of many genres, including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, naturalism, realism, magical realism, graphic, erotic, experimental, psychological, social, political, historical, bildungsroman, romance, western, army life, young adult, thriller, etc., etc…. and the proliferating cross-species and subgenres such as erotic Regency, noir police procedural, or historical thriller with zombies.”
To which I respond: Well, obviously. But I’m not sure I felt it was all that obvious before Le Guin said it.
Incidentally, my favorite comment on this post?
Pat Mathews says:
June 18, 2012 at 9:08 am
“PLEASE don’t suggest that English teachers teach the novels people actually read! I can think of no better way of ruining the pleasure in the book for the students than to have to deal with those tiresome “Questions for discussion” and the intense analysis that deconstructs everything.”
Interestingly, though my response to that comment was AMEN, several later commenters think that deconstructing novels is a great pleasure. So there you go.
Personally, I NEVER liked a single novel that was assigned in school. (I’m including high school and college here, and reserving the right to have forgotten something I actually did like.)
Some I nearly liked (Faulkner’s THE BEAR) and some I detested with a burning passion (MADAME BOVARY), but I didn’t actually enjoy a single one. This left me with a conviction that Great Literature must be grim, depressing, and tragic.
This reflexive flinch at the mere concept of Great Literature lasted until a friend made me watch the movie “Sense and Sensibility”. Which I loved. Which led me to read all of Jane Austin. After which I asked, Why in Heaven’s name didn’t anybody assign THOSE in school? I think we need more English Lit teachers who are natural optimists and don’t automatically think a book has to be GRIM and carry a message about the fundamental hopelessness of the human condition in order to have, you know, worth and depth.
But if English Lit teachers were going to pick some fabulous genre examples to add to their curricula, what would be some good picks? I don’t want to suggest anything too super obvious, so nothing like The Lord of the Rings — let’s get beyond that and pick some cool stuff that nobody’s ever thought of teaching in the classroom!
My top five off the top of my head:
THE CITY AND THE CITY (Mieville) — my God, teachers should love this one if they want to have discussions about what everything means and the nature of truth. And I was just re-reading bits of it last night, so it was on my mind.
A FREE MAN OF COLOR (Hambly) — a mystery set in 1830s New Orleans, the lit teacher could tie it into the history class, for a teaching across the curriculum type of thing, and it’s truly a great story.
THE BOOK OF ATRYX WOLFE (McKillip) — because it’s just the most beautiful book ever.
A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT (Whitcomb) — because I think teenagers would love it, it’s got great female and male characters, and it’s raises some really neat questions about morality and society and all that stuff, and besides it’s just fabulous.
And, um . . . um . . . I said five, right? Okay, but I’m going to cheat and throw in a series:
The Queen’s Thief series (Turner) — because I think kids would love them and they’re great stories and the setting is sorta-kinda historical and I could go on but basically I just think they’re really amazing books. Especially the middle two but really all four.
What occurs to you that would be great in the classroom?