BTT: Lit-Ra-Chur


OMG, I’m howling. This week’s Booking Through Thursday is just perfect. I may sound a bit like Trevor here, but go figure. Maybe there’s more of him in me than I’m usually willing to own up to.

When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
* Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

Okay, I’ve gotta come clean here, although You Who Know Me Well already know this.

When I hear the word literature, I gag. Seriously.

I have not one, but two degrees in English. I’ve managed to avoid reading most of what we’d call literature — Hemingway, Virgina Woolf… all that stuff. When I read Moby Dick in eleventh grade, the teacher called my mom and claimed that I wasn’t reading it. I was failing every quiz, the teacher said. My mom didn’t understand it; I was sitting right there beside her, reading as she talked.

I read that entire novel and didn’t retain a damn word of it. In the eyes, out the … who knows what. But those words sure didn’t compute.

And now, in this day of highbrow stuff that wins awards, I’ve learned. Life of Pi? Forget it. History of Love? My book club read it; I quit on page 20. Not good when you’re the discussion leader… but really.

Now, I do like Shakespeare’s comedies. I loved reading Gulliver’s Travels as part of my satire class in undergrad. So there are exceptions to the gagging.

And yeah, you can argue that Neuromancer and Ender’s Game and The Handmaid’s Tale are all classics. Interview with the Vampire. Bright Lights, Big City.

But those aren’t books that take themselves so pretentiously.

And for me, that’s it. I want a book I can sink into. If it makes me think, that’s a bonus. But save me the highbrow attitudes, the pathetic old men, the philosophy vaguely designed as fiction.

You can say I lately read — and loved — some literature in the guise of A Day of Small Beginnings and A Thread of Grace. Okay, I’ll buy that. Those WERE good books and I’ll rave about them any day. It comes down to this:

I may not want action, but I want characters I can love, not loathe. I want to fall in love with a book and the people in it and the situations they find themselves in. I don’t want to meditate; that’s what the elliptical at the gym is for.

Commercial fiction all the way, baby. I read it and dammit, I’m proud to write it, too.



  1. Breeni Books

    April 3, 2008 7:20 pm

    Aww, I loved Life of Pi, but I listened to the audio instead of reading it. Maybe that’s the difference.BR/BR/Happy BTT!

  2. spyscribbler

    April 3, 2008 7:28 pm

    ROFL! I love this. I’ve had a sort of weird experience. I used to read some of the classics, like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, all of them, when I was in third through sixth grade. (Our local library had them all sheelved in the children’s section, which I think is genius.)BR/BR/Strangely enough, I’ve been going back to them, and … guess what? I don’t understand them anymore!!!!BR/BR/My reading ability has gone way down.

  3. Maree

    April 3, 2008 7:42 pm

    Yes!! I think you expressed what I wanted to say, but oh, so much better!

  4. bunnygirl

    April 3, 2008 8:29 pm

    Before my job became more demanding, I used free time at the office for reading the classics online. Sometimes you just want to know what all the fuss is about. Evelyn Waugh’s books left me cold, but Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was OMG hilarious! I’ve always loved satire. I can quote Candide at length in both French and English. Yeah. Pathetic. BR/BR/I’ve read quite a few of the Spanish-language classics. Other than One Hundred Years of Solitude, I find Latin American lit deadly dull and prefer to read it in Spanish since I can at least distract myself from the tedium by working on my language skills. :-)BR/BR/As for more recent stuff, I like I like Jose Saramago for his thought-provoking themes, and I like Cormac McCarthy’s command of the English language, even while I find his actual stories disturbing.BR/BR/If I want a fun read, I won’t usually reach for literature, whether an old or new classic. I prefer history. I know. I’m weird.BR/BR/Gonna go slink away now before Trevor makes a nasty remark.

  5. Thomma Lyn

    April 3, 2008 8:47 pm

    *chuckling* at your response! To stick with a book, I have to have characters who interest me, a story that draws me in… but I Bloved/B ILife of Pi/I, and you might gag at other books I love, too — Hemingway’s IFor Whom the Bell Tolls/I, A. S. Byatt’s IPossession/I, Victor Hugo’s ILes Miserables/I.BR/BR/But… I completely agree with you: any book which is less story than pretentious puffery is for the birds.BR/BR/Just goes to show, how subjective this “liking a book” thingie can be! :)BR/BR/And indeed you should be proud of what you write ’cause it’s damn good! 🙂

  6. Park Avenue Princess

    April 3, 2008 9:04 pm

    Hi Susan! Hi Breeni! I just wanted to stop by and see your blog…it’s gorgeous! Are you sure you won’t enter the raffle on my site … you know I’ll let you pick what ever FICTION book you want : ) Whatever you like to read. (I liked Life of Pi too Breeni) BR/BR/Thank you for coming by my blog to see me Susan. I really appreciate it. I forgot to do my BTT today while I was making my own post…hmmm Should I go back and do it? Can I just “borrow” yours LOL Sorry, I’m not into the classics either. I had to read them all in school. I think that’s what turns children today off reading.BR/BR/I know my son used to love to be read to and as he got a little older loved to read by himself or to me. Now, the only time he’ll pick up a book is if he absolutely HAS to for school (sad…I love reading so and I hoped he would too) He’s definitely his own person and that’s what’s important!BR/BR/I’ll see you both soonBR/BR/Amy

  7. Florinda

    April 3, 2008 9:23 pm

    I don’t mind a book I can take seriously, but I have to agree that it’s good when it doesn’t take Iitself/I so seriously. Loved your answer (and hate Hemingway too)!

  8. Bethanie

    April 3, 2008 10:04 pm

    Your Moby Dick is my Scarlet Letter, only I never did read it and aced the test (I just listened in class and got lucky that that’s where all the questions came from). I actually think I would have done fine reading the actual Bstory/B of the Scarlet Letter, had I ever gotten that far. But for some strange reason the teacher made us read this horrid essay about a counting house (it was the preface of the edition we were using) and I just couldn’t get through it. I would sit there and read the same 87-word sentence over and over and over and get NOTHING from it. So I gave up and, being 16 and rebellious at the time, said, “To HECK with the whole dang thing…”BR/BR/And then I majored in German in college. German Literature, actually. Which is where I learned that 87-word sentences are Inuthin’/I.

  9. Ann

    April 3, 2008 11:08 pm

    Dude, I am so there with you. Although I still love me some Jane Eyre and Sense Sensibility. I had to read Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (the Whole thing), and when I was done I wanted to have a one book marshmallow roast. And don’t get me started on Fielding. Bleh. :)BR/P.S. I suspect Austen was writing to be read, not to be Litrachur.

  10. Dewey

    April 3, 2008 11:11 pm

    Oh my god, I think you’re the only other person I’ve run into who hated Life of Pi. I could not even finish it! Ok, actually, I barely gave it the 50 page chance. And it was on my list for the Booker challenge. And people were leaving me comments when it was my Currently Reading picture, saying, ‘I can’t wait to hear what you think of my FAVORITE BOOK.’ So I just very quietly never mentioned it again.

  11. Kathleen Oxley

    April 4, 2008 1:09 am

    I totally agree with you. Literature. Ick.BR/BR/I never enjoyed reading the assigned books in school, but a huge part of it was b/c you weren’t allowed to just read them. You had to analyze the crap out of them. I remember reading Shelley’s Frankenstein for a class and, for once, being ahead of the assigned reading schedule. Then I went to the lecture and thought the teacher and I must be reading different books. She saw foreshadowing and hidden meanings where I saw an entertaining scene. She actually told me I was “reading it wrong.” That was the last literature class I took, and pretty much turned me off of taking reading/writing seriously for YEARS. BR/BR/I like to get lost in the books I read, and I like thinking that if I miss all the hidden messages and secret meanings, it’s okay. As long as I enjoyed the story. BR/BR/~Kat 🙂

  12. Leigh Russell

    April 4, 2008 3:19 am

    A lot of sweeping generalisations here! I enjoy classics and commercial books – love some, hate others in both categories. Although I enjoy lots of ‘commercial’ books one supremely commercial book that annoyed me intensely was the Da Vinci Code. I couldn’t stop reading it, had to know what happened, but was irritated by the poor style. That said, I really hope my books prove to be commercial!

  13. Darla

    April 4, 2008 5:54 am

    Oh, Susan–me, too. I’ve been reading a few classics here and there, and if they’ve got a plot, and characters I can care about, I’m there. But the stuff that, like you said, takes itself so seriously, the books that are more concerned with how clever their metaphors are than with actually telling a story–no.BR/BR/And then there are the books that, when I read them, they make me imagine that the author’s sitting in the corner watching me, sneering. Those I really want to throw across the room. (preferably into that corner!)

  14. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 4, 2008 7:52 am

    Umm, yeah, Leigh. If I didn’t stay general, you’d be reading for a few days.

  15. Tilly Greene

    April 4, 2008 9:17 am

    I’m not remotely interested in reading something because I’m told I should because it’s “good literature”. No way. My reading time is far too prescious to be spent on something others have decided is a superior read.BR/BR/That said, each year when Banned Books Week comes around I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. Apparently Harper Lee was once asked why she doesn’t why another book and her supposed answer is always in the back of my mind. Why? I said all I needed to in the first.

  16. On a limb with Claudia

    April 4, 2008 10:17 am

    One of the things that amuses me is that Shakespeare was the chick lit of the day. So was Hemingway… Jane Austin, Emily Dickenson… and on and on… Many, many of our “literature” were pop rags when they came out. That’s why they are around today – a lot of people enjoyed them. BR/BR/I’m with you. Commercial fiction all the way!

  17. Bob-kat

    April 4, 2008 10:25 am

    Amen to that! I hear ya.BR/BR/I must admit that I do enjoy some books thta are classed as ‘highbrow literature’ but here’s the thing, thta is not why I love them, or why I read them. A book is a book to me, as long as it’s well written adn I can like adn relate to the characters in some way than it rates in my opinion. Not because someone else tells me to rate it highly.

  18. Winter

    April 4, 2008 10:58 am

    I agree totally. Although, there are some classics that really are the shit. Candide. Sartre’s No Exit. The Shakespeare comedies. Some Oscar Wilde. Hysterically funny stuff. I will admit to liking that reprobate Lord Byron’s stuff too. Other than those, gimme sex and bloodsucking anyday.

  19. Danika / OpenChannel

    April 4, 2008 1:28 pm

    When I think of “literature” I think of pamphlets handed out by door-to-door evangelists. “here, have some literature about our cause…”BR/BR/Since we’re on “confessions of an English major…” I love all kinds of books, classics to commercial, fiction and non. I even love authors others love to hate (Hemingway, John Irving, Milan Kundera). I just read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and enjoyed it very much. The Wizard of Oz books can be counted as some of my all time favourites…BR/BR/But… the book I cannot get through, cannot stand, is Madame Bovary. All the characters make me want to hit myself with a two-by-four and the three page detailed descriptions of food at their party are just too much.BR/BR/p.s. i loved the Life of Pi, especially the ending.

  20. Amy Ruttan

    April 4, 2008 2:13 pm

    Here Here! But I have read the Life of Pi and it was well done; but not one that I would write home about.BR/BR/Give me JR Wards Black Dagger Brotherhood any day. 😀

  21. pussreboots

    April 4, 2008 2:46 pm

    I personally love Moby Dick but I have had the same experience. In my case, it happens with Heart of Darkness. I have read the darn thing three times and I would still fail any quizzes based on it.

  22. No Nonsense Girl

    April 4, 2008 9:39 pm

    That was great!!!!!BR/BR/Have a great weekend Susan!

  23. paisley

    April 4, 2008 9:44 pm

    i am with you all the way… if you cant drag me in and keep me with you… i am outta here…

  24. Julia Smith

    April 4, 2008 10:19 pm

    I don’t mind the word literature, I actually enjoy books that don’t have a HEA, but I can’t say that I’ve actually read a huge amount of classics. It`s all subjective anyway.BR/BR/In the romance world, for some reason I rarely get into contemporary stories. If the very same plot is told in a Victorian or Regency or medieval setting, I`m totally engrossed. Go figure! I`m that way with films, too. If it`s a modern chick flick like `Under the Tuscan Sun` I`m just not interested. I`ve still never seen it. But give me `Sense and Sensibility` and I`m gaga.

  25. Mrs. Brownstone @ XBOX Wife

    April 8, 2008 12:12 am

    This is an awesome post! I changed my major in college from English because of this exact reason!

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