I recently read an article in the guardian that suggested that literature is a dying art and it got me wondering about the topic of English language in fiction. Now, controversial opinion alert, I’m not a huge fan of literary classics- Catcher in the rye, Ethan Frome, To kill a mockingbird- and I have a sneaking suspicion that it was due to them all having one thing in common, they were all based on reality, rather than the escapism I am after when I pick up a novel. Heavy subjects such as racism and sexism were laid thick, as if to be obvious about a subject matter was to be deemed intellectual. Maybe I am just too harsh a critic, or maybe my brain doesn’t span far enough to look past the dreary storylines and find comfort in the metaphors and similes of a time long since past but I prefer modern novels, novels that tell a story of lost worlds, romance and fantasy.
Every book on writing I’ve ever had the privilege of opening has explained that to be able to write is to be able to tell a story, so what does it matter if it’s written badly? Obviously I’m not talking unedited stories from independent online authors, although I have come across a few diamonds in the rough, but as long as you can tell a story, with a beginning, middle and end, with plenty of conflict and character development then who’s to say that isn’t literature?
The full definition of literature, according to merriam-webster is: “writings in prose or verse, especially: writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest”. So literature is a well constructed piece of writing which holds lasting interest. I’m starting to see why the classics were deemed literary but to say it is dying out seems a tad extreme, surely, as society changes our eye for literary classics adapt to suit? To further this idea, it seems as if it is these classics, as I have listed above, are becoming outdated, and if anything, losing their literary status. This poses a link to my next question, how long does a prose have to be popular before it is deemed a literary classic?
To me novels like the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey aren’t literature. They are popular due to the shock factor and die out once the hype has disappeared. It may be that novels with re readable content, great stories and lengthy hype duration may be more of a candidate for this status. Again, there’s the possibility that I’m being presumptuous and overly expressing my dislike for the novel, who’s to say that, going by my previous argument, that this novel, due to it’s popularity, may have literary status in the future?
Another article I read recently, again from the guardian, was stating how children are taught how to write stories using the correct amount of adverbs, adjectives and basically how to churn out mechanical stories, arguably sucking the life out of imagination. It made me wonder: why do grown ups actually write stories? The answer I came up with was simple, they want to have fun. The best way to have fun with writing? Literally, no pun intended, throw words on a page and see what happens, visualise the story and write. Although, in direct comparison to this, the article read that in order to break the rules one must first know the rules, but how much do you need to know in order to write a successful prose?
There is always the possibility that I am discrediting what it means to be a literary author to justify my own writing but if I am happy reading current popular novels and skipping the literary classics as most of the general population tend to do, would writing a literary classic entail a doomed existence as a writer? Or in a hundred years time when we contemplate the literary geniuses of the 21st century, will we consider popular fiction from today?