Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Appreciation Of Literature

In an attempt to increase my positive revenue stream, this week I added an Amazon book store to my blog. I figured that since I blog as often as I do, I may as well make some money at it. Along the top of the blog, readers can search for, and purchase, any book Amazon has to offer. In addition to this ability, readers can buy one of my favorite books with one click along the left side. Finally, each entry will feature a selection of topic related materials, which readers can purchase.

It was as I was choosing my favorite books, that I began thinking about books. More precisely, I began thinking about the books I choose to read. Since I write crime fiction, my list is, of course, heavily weighted with crime fiction. Scattered among my favorite mysteries, one will find cookbooks, the culinary musings of Anthony Bourdain, and a few non-genre offerings which have spoken to me over the years, including Young’s ”The Shack,” and Cather’s “My Ă…ntonia.” I read the blogs of “serious” writers though, and they tout Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby, and the works of Shakespeare as “must reads“.

Since Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be watched, rather than read, I’ve made it a point to partake of as many of the plays as possible. However I must confess, most of the other “serious” works simply don’t do it for me.

When I go to buy a book, I ask myself why I should care about this character? I have to be able to identify with a protagonist, on some level, to enjoy a book. Are they saving lives, solving crimes, dedicating themselves to a cause greater than themselves, or educating the reader in some way? Am I at least going to read about a strong intelligent character with some kind of moral fiber? If the answers are no, I’m probably not going to spend time or money on that particular book.

OK, Cather’s Jim Burden lacks a certain degree of self esteem, and comes across as wimpy, making the reader want to slap him and scream, “Tell her how you feel!” We’ve all loved unrequitedly at some point in our lives though, and therefore can feel Jim’s pain.

On the flip side, while “The Great Gatsby” oozes with imagery and metaphor, it leaves me flat. Yes, I get the whole eye of god in the billboard thing, but when the characters are oblivious of reality, I can’t find anyone to care about. Likewise, while I can appreciate Hemingway’s take on man versus nature, at the end of the day we have Santiago killing a marvelous creature to prove he’s still a man, without anything tangible to show for his effort. As for Salinger’s piece, I may have simply discovered this coming of age tale too late in life to get much out of it.

Thus, I’m forced to ask myself if my lukewarm reception of such classics prevents me from being a serious writer? It’s a question which I’ve wrestled with. In the end though, I think an appreciation of literature is merely a matter of finding subject matter that speaks to you. I’m hardly a religious zealot, yet “The Shack” challenged me to reexamine my beliefs, and thus became one of my favorite books.

I may, or may not, be a serious writer, whatever that really means. Nevertheless, I don’t think the question hinges on a specific reading list, or an understanding of certain key works. Readers, and writers, should focus on books they enjoy. If the “classics” truly excite and enthrall you, that’s great. If not, that’s OK too, as long as you’re reading something.

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