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HelloKiddo
06-13-2009, 12:24 AM
This could apply to adult readers as well, if you want to take the discussion there.

I’m wondering how you, as writers, feel about the argument that children receive few or no benefits from reading what many academics think of as “literary slop”.

The most famous proponent of this argument (as far as I know) is literary critic Harold Bloom. He argues that “mediocrity benefits no one” and that reading books he considers to be mediocre will not help our children much.


Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?
I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn't, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn't that a good thing?

It is not. "Harry Potter" will not lead our children on to Kipling's "Just So Stories" or his "Jungle Book." It will not lead them to Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks" or Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice."
When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.^^^Emphasis mine. He means that as an insult, suggesting that reading mediocre books as children will lead to reading mediocre books in adulthood.

A couple links:

http://wrt-brooke.syr.edu/courses/205.03/bloom.html
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/


The case is made that Harry Potter demands nothing of its readers and does not challenge them to think.

I will take this argument one step further with Twilight. If Harry Potter does not encourage its readers to think, Twilight actually discourages its readers from thinking. The book makes no sense. If you try to read it actively and think about the plot you’ll go crazy because much of what is in the book is nonsense.

What do you think? Do reading books like Harry Potter and Twilight benefit children?

blueobsidian
06-13-2009, 12:32 AM
I think that argument is ridiculous. My mom is a junior high librarian in a very poor city -- in fact, many of these junior high students only read at a first or second grade reading level. However, many kids who had never had an interest in reading would come in to check out Twilight and Harry Potter. And many of those kids KEPT coming back for new books in a variety of subjects. Those books helped them discover that they could enjoy reading.

Cyia
06-13-2009, 02:18 AM
If nothing else, plowing through a book the size of HP or Twilight is good practice - especially for a kid who has trouble focusing or reading. It holds their interest, and if they can go through 500 pages, then that next assigned 100-200 might not look so daunting.

Salis
06-13-2009, 02:27 AM
It is, in my opinion, a really, really stupid argument, but it represents a really unclosable gap in what people want from books.

Personally, I want a book to entertain or challenge or interest me in some way. I don't mind at all if it doesn't change my life, or doesn't solve intractable philosophical problems (whatever the hell that means).

Some people (the 'literary' crowd, I guess?) want their reading to be really meaningful, though.

You can see this divide in most 'art'. You've got the people who want art that entertains them (the silent majority), the people who want art that changes them or is very meaningful in some way (the silent minority), and then you have the people who want meaningful art for the sake of sneering at anything that isn't 'meaningful' (the loud minority).

aquacat
06-13-2009, 02:44 AM
Harold Bloom is an elitist jackass. He also believes that the push to include more marginal literature - like that written by women and minorities - in the classroom has dumbed down readers and weakened education. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I think it's important to instill a love of reading in kids, period. If you can do that you can slowly introduce them to more "literary" works, but if you force them to only read what's on the "approved reading lists" when they're not interested you might turn them off to reading for good. I read lots of genre fiction as a kid (horror, sci-fi and fantasy mostly), and I still enjoy a good potboiler or trashy romance, but that doesn't mean I don't also appreciate Proust and Saramago or understand the value of having a cannon, as limited and problematic as it can often be.

Christine N.
06-13-2009, 02:48 AM
Blah. A book is a book. Getting kids excited about reading is hard enough without forcing them to read books written 100 years before they were born. My mother tried that with me - giving me the Witch of Blackbird Pond and Wind in the Willows. I didn't appreciate any of them until I was older, and was happy with my Madeline L'Engle and Roald Dahl.

I love that kids love Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and are excited to read them. It's all about loving to read, and far too few kids have learned to love it. Forcing them to read antiquated tomes that they can't relate to is part of the problem, I think. When kids tell me they hate to read, I say they just haven't found the right book yet.

Once they build their confidence on stuff like this bullethead is putting down, they can work up to meatier stuff like Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell and it won't intimidate them. Kids don't care about meaning - they want fun.

brainstorm77
06-13-2009, 02:51 AM
Not all people read to think... Some just like to be entertained and look at it as such. I enjoyed Twilight, yes it was simple to read but big deal, it is what it is.

ChristineR
06-13-2009, 04:18 AM
Why does he think Harry Potter is mediocre slop and his favorites are literature? I think Rowling's seven book saga does a better job of "enriching mind, spirit, and personality" than Kipling, but then, I hate Kipling. Not that Rowling is the most profound thing ever written, but really, neither is Alice.

The Rav
06-13-2009, 04:52 AM
I hate people who get up on soapboxes and preach that books they don't like are slop that don't deserve to be read. People have different taste in things, be it books, art, movies, whatever. Those who think the only things worth reading are "classics" and "literary titles," and those who don't read them aren't really reading need to pull their heads out from, well, you know. ;) I heard countless stories of parents saying that their child never read anything before Harry Potter, and now that child is browsing the book aisles of the bookstore rather than just the video game or teenie-bopper magazines (not that I condone children reading those, either, as long as their reading, it's just nice that their horizons are being broadened! :D ). I'm guessing the Twilight series has done much of the same. It just makes me mad when pompous, er, people have to tell everyone that if children (and adults for that matter) aren't reading classics, they're wasting their time. I just wish they'd climb down from their soapbox and crawl under a rock somewhere, leaving us all alone.

(And now I'll crawl down off my own soapbox, thank you very much. ;) :D )

happywritermom
06-13-2009, 05:32 AM
My son is 9 years old and he's on book seven of the Harry Potter series (My husband reads him a few pages at night and then he reads on his own until he falls asleep). He's also on book four of 39 Clues. All of which Bloom would consider junk. Yet, he's also read both Wind in the Willows and Jungle Book along with Gulliver's Travels , lots of mythology and many other "classic" titles. His favorite books are science books, like the National Geographic universe book. When he doesn't feel like thinking too hard though, he reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the Weird School books. He even reads his old Dr. Suess books just for fun.
He reads whatever his mood dictates.

My 7-year-old daughter is reading both Warriors and Dear Dumb Diary right now. Sometimes, she reads the Tinker Bell books for fun. She also rereads her old picture books and, for a while, she was really into Captian Underpants. She doesn't like books that are too emotional because she has so many emotional issues of her own. (OCD, high anxiety, etc.)

When I was a kid, I read old social studies textbooks, Grimms fairy tales and Harliquin romances. And yes, I read VC Andrews in eighth grade. Nowadays, I read mostly literary fiction. But I have to admit, when I'm on the elliptical at the YMCA, I read People magazine or Us, anything to take my mind off reality.

Bloom's attitude toward literature reflects an attitude of intollerence and supremacy.
He's is not someone I ever want to hang out with.
And I sure don't want to raise a bunch of little Blooms.

happywritermom
06-13-2009, 05:36 AM
PS.
Personally, I loved the Percy Jackson books. I read them to my son and got annoyed with him whenever he sneaked them and read ahead. What an awesome imagination that guy has!

Izz
06-13-2009, 05:40 AM
Circular and ridiculous argument.

It's akin to saying that if the first car i own is a model or brand commonly derided--let's pick one, say, a Skoda--that i'm either going to be put off cars and never drive again, or I'm only ever going to buy cheap and nasty cars, and never want to own--let's pick a model commonly elevated as being amazing--a Porsche.

Lessee, when i was growing up i read The Hardy Boys and other kid adventure books, which i'm sure Bloom and other literary critics would equate to Harry Potter today. But, hmm, that didn't stop me from reading The Jungle Book or Wind in the Willows or Alice. And it's likely that without the introductory reading of more 'mediocre' books i wouldn't have read those classics, because i wouldn't have had the reading stamina to do so.

Sure, i in no way think that The Hardy Boys and a lot of the other books i read as a kid are amazingly crafted, and i have no issue with deconstructing the writing of those and popular books today to determine why they're not well-written (otherwise how am i going to improve my craft) but they helped me to enjoy reading.

A person can't run a marathon without training. And how does one start off their training if they've never run before? With a four-hour running session? No. Most likely, it'll be ten or fifteen minutes, and they'll gradually improve their stamina until they can train for absurd lengths of time. Similar principle applies to books, i think. Sure, some people may never read more than what are termed the 'mediocre' books, but hey, not everybody runs marathons either.

Any argument like the one in the OP is riddled with fallacious and erroneous reasoning based on personal preference and a patronizing attitude. In fact, arguments like that probably do more damage than good if they're trying to get people to expand their reading horizons. After all, if i read 'literary slop' then i must be a pig, right? And those who only read 'enriching' literature (which they have defined to be enriching) and deride the 'literary slop' (which they have defined to be slop) must be much better than me, and think themselves so too. And who wants to emulate or associate with people who treat those outside their 'sphere' like they're pigs in a sty?

DeadlyAccurate
06-13-2009, 06:51 AM
PS.
Personally, I loved the Percy Jackson books. I read them to my son and got annoyed with him whenever he sneaked them and read ahead. What an awesome imagination that guy has!

Me, too. Also loved HP. Have no interest in Twilight, but I read plenty of books like it when I was younger. A love of reading when I was young meant reading a lot of what the elitists consider slop. But without that love of reading, I would not have picked up books by Dickens, Twain, Eco, or the Baroness Orczy on my own. Almost every book I had to read at school (you know, literature?) was a book I intensely disliked (go ahead, ask me my opinion of Of Mice And Men), but the stuff I picked up on my own, even the classics, were books I love.

I still read lots of "slop." Because I read to be entertained. But I'm far more likely to read something the elitists consider "worthwhile" because no one tried to shove their idea of worthy literature down my throat as a child.

Christine N.
06-13-2009, 03:03 PM
I haven't read the last Percy Jackson book yet - don't TELL ME HOW IT ENDS!!! (and I have books 1-3 of 39 Clues but haven't read them yet.)

wannawrite
06-13-2009, 06:41 PM
My (15) daughter loved Harry Potter, and worships Twilight. All I know is that she hated reading 'til a couple of years back, then found and devoured those. She has since moved on to worship Meg Cabot, and Tamora Pierce. She likes Michele Bardsley, and just about anything else vampire related. I, personally, think this is a great thing. Maybe she is not filling her brain with vaulted words of wisdom. But she has learned to love reading, and I have witnessed her boundaries expanding. Her vocabulary has increased, and she is becoming educated in the world beyond things that they teach in school. (the other day she asked about Darwin, and creationism, because it was mentioned in passing in one of her books. Is that a bad thing? I think not) Anyway, I thank the authors who helped to light her way. Yes, that even includes Meyers, although I am not particularly a fan.

So, is reading sludge beneficial to a child? Uh...yeah.

Exir
06-13-2009, 07:03 PM
When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.

Most ridiculous thing I've ever read in a long time.

WendyNYC
06-13-2009, 07:39 PM
I think there is room for both. The books I read *to* my children are rich in vocabulary and slightly above their reading level. They read what he would consider "literary slop" as well, for entertainment, but I also want them to read books that challenge them. Challenging doesn't have to equal boring, and, in many cases, the tougher ones have proven to be their favorite books they read over and over. Luckily, their school librarian puts together a fantastic list to make it easy for me (and them) to choose.

ChristineR
06-13-2009, 08:08 PM
Now that I think of it, I read all the Potter books, yet I have no interest in Stephen King. i wonder what's wrong with me?

Storm Dream
06-13-2009, 08:17 PM
I'd tell Harold Bloom where he could stick his statement, but I'd end up getting targeted by the literary police.

Recently I saw a lot of student films at my roommate's graduation (she went to film school). Quite a few of them were more concerned with being 'art' than actually being entertaining, which is how I view a lot of literary fiction.

Art doesn't interest me. I read for entertainment. The literary crap I read in school didn't stick with me -the lowbrow stuff did.

RG570
06-13-2009, 10:35 PM
Good taste is learned and practiced. That's just the way it is. By pandering to the now unguided tastes of children, you stunt their growth. This is why the anti-intellectual attitude is so acceptable these days. The middle class generation now running the world was pandered to and is directly responsible for the systematic dumbing-down of everything. Their only defence, which is quite weak, is that anyone who criticizes this is "elitist."

The point of school is not to be fun, but to train a person's mind. This should involve things that are hard and uncomfortable, not fun little things to keep the kid interested so they don't drop out. Once they understand exactly why good literature (or scotch or music or whatever) is good, they will enjoy it.

Pouting and saying "Harry Potter is as good as John Updike" is one of the most frightening symptoms of a growing trend in society towards permanent youthful insolence. Now "grow up" just means rack up credit card debt and get a mortgage. Everything else stays in the 15 year old mindset. Screw that.

happywritermom
06-13-2009, 11:58 PM
Good taste is learned and practiced. That's just the way it is. By pandering to the now unguided tastes of children, you stunt their growth. This is why the anti-intellectual attitude is so acceptable these days. The middle class generation now running the world was pandered to and is directly responsible for the systematic dumbing-down of everything. Their only defence, which is quite weak, is that anyone who criticizes this is "elitist."

The point of school is not to be fun, but to train a person's mind. This should involve things that are hard and uncomfortable, not fun little things to keep the kid interested so they don't drop out. Once they understand exactly why good literature (or scotch or music or whatever) is good, they will enjoy it.

Pouting and saying "Harry Potter is as good as John Updike" is one of the most frightening symptoms of a growing trend in society towards permanent youthful insolence. Now "grow up" just means rack up credit card debt and get a mortgage. Everything else stays in the 15 year old mindset. Screw that.

Now, I don't think anyone ever said Harry Potter is as good as John Updike. The two cannot be compared. The authors write in entirely different genres.

I'm guessing you are not a teacher. If you were, you would know that what children read outside of school and what they read in school for the purposes of teaching and "training their minds" is also entirely different. Regardless of the text, the point of reading fiction with a class or for a class is to teach students how to analyze and how to organize their thoughts. You can do that with Harry Potter, but it's much easier to do with John Updike's stories. It's easier because John Updike's works are more contained and less distracting. It's more effective to focus students on just a few general ideas that they can then work with more specifically, especially when you are working with students who have varying ability levels.

So really, the works that are easier to teach are often the works that end up becoming "classics." What they read outside the classroom doesn't really matter as long as they are still reading. Outside the classroom, they are, hopefully, reading books that take them new places; expose them to new ideas or cultures; encourage their imaginations; and expand their vocabularies. Harry Potter does that. The Jungle Book does that. Nancy Drew does that. Even Captian Underpants does that.

Salis
06-14-2009, 12:03 AM
Actually, that argument is even funnier (or, more bluntly, stupid) because many of the novels and works that are now considered literary greats (see Dickens) were considered pulpy trash and unimportant crowd-pleasers in their time.

In other words, there is no lock on what is a 'nourishing' literary great, and what is self-gratifying trash. The perception changes over time. There's a few genuine arguments to be made about good vs. bad writing, but most of the 'what is popular is bad!' arguments are a differentiating smoke-screen, really no more profound than saying that owning a Mac makes you a more artistic person than owning a PC, because less people have one.

Christine N.
06-14-2009, 12:04 AM
When you LIKE to read, you do it more often. You WANT to read. When it's hard for you to read, because all you ever read is the stuff they force you read in school, or you don't ever read anything else, you begin to loathe doing it. Then when you leave school and there's no one to make you, you STOP doing it. Then you have a tough time in life, because LIFE IS READING.

So don't get all high and mighty - there's room for children to read Harry Potter as well as Dickens. It's not an either/or. But having a child that likes to read because he can do it well and it's not a chore isn't a terrible thing, either.

(above poster is correct: Dickens, Shelley, and Austen were all considered pop culture trash when they were first published.)

Matera the Mad
06-14-2009, 06:43 AM
I'm sure I read lots of potboilers when I was young. I enjoy Harry Potter now, even though I sometimes get an editing itch from it. I also enjoyed classics. Some people may have read good stuff when they were young, but are lost in a bog of slushy romance now. I say let 'em read. Whatever. Just make sure all the options are available. The worst influence on modern youth is the Evil Grandmother, the box in the living room.

blueobsidian
06-14-2009, 07:23 AM
I spent part elementary school voraciously reading the Babysitters Club books. I read two a week, and reread them when I ran out. That didn't stop me from growing to love Shakespeare starting in the 8th grade, when we read Taming of the Shrew in advanced English.

I would say that the problem isn't kids reading Harry Potter, but kids being parked in front of the television for entertainment. I maybe watched 2 hours of television per week when I was a kid, but I read a book every day or two and played outside with my friends.

Izz
06-14-2009, 07:29 AM
The worst influence on modern youth is the Evil Grandmother, the box in the living room.


I maybe watched 2 hours of television per week when I was a kid, but I read a book every day or two and played outside with my friends.Agreed. We didn't have a TV at home until i was 14. Up until that time i used to read around 1 book a day (would've read more, but my folks put a limit on it otherwise i probably would've just melded into the couch).

That habit didn't drop immediately after getting a TV, but after a while it did, and today I have a much shorter book attention span than i used to. TV isn't the only factor in that, but i do think it was a contributing one, at least initially.

Storm Dream
06-14-2009, 08:15 AM
Good taste is learned and practiced. That's just the way it is. By pandering to the now unguided tastes of children, you stunt their growth. This is why the anti-intellectual attitude is so acceptable these days. The middle class generation now running the world was pandered to and is directly responsible for the systematic dumbing-down of everything. Their only defence, which is quite weak, is that anyone who criticizes this is "elitist."

The point of school is not to be fun, but to train a person's mind. This should involve things that are hard and uncomfortable, not fun little things to keep the kid interested so they don't drop out. Once they understand exactly why good literature (or scotch or music or whatever) is good, they will enjoy it.

Pouting and saying "Harry Potter is as good as John Updike" is one of the most frightening symptoms of a growing trend in society towards permanent youthful insolence. Now "grow up" just means rack up credit card debt and get a mortgage. Everything else stays in the 15 year old mindset. Screw that.

But no one's saying Harry Potter is as good as John Updike. No one here, anyway. I also don't see why kids enjoying a book that they're probably reading outside of school as an indication that things are being dumbed down.

Maybe you grew to enjoy good literature (and I might add, "good" is entirely subjective) but that doesn't mean everyone else is going to. That doesn't mean they're lacking in taste or education.

Izunya
06-14-2009, 08:32 AM
The middle class generation now running the world was pandered to and is directly responsible for the systematic dumbing-down of everything. Their only defence, which is quite weak, is that anyone who criticizes this is "elitist."

The middle class includes teachers, professors at many colleges (especially the local ones), scientists . . . people whose careers depend on not dumbing things down. And my husband's father is a farmer and a woodcarver who read his kids Dickens while they were growing up. There is something of an anti-intellectual current in this country, but blaming the middle class is simplistic at best.


The point of school is not to be fun, but to train a person's mind. This should involve things that are hard and uncomfortable, not fun little things to keep the kid interested so they don't drop out. Once they understand exactly why good literature (or scotch or music or whatever) is good, they will enjoy it.

A school should involve both hard, uncomfortable, ultimately rewarding things and fun little things that keep the kids from dropping out. Because, you know, if they drop out, no-one will ever be able to explain to them why "good literature" is good.

Besides—what does make good literature good? It's the fact that it makes you think, right? The perspective? The educational discomfort that comes from looking through the eyes of someone totally different from you, maybe even repulsive, and seeing them as human? I mean, beautiful prose is all very well, but it's only so many words if you don't see something new.

Well, if you can't read fluently—if you're stuck on the mechanics of the thing, struggling through the words, having to think about what a period or a paragraph break means—then you cannot experience the classics. Not even if you read them. You and I read Huckleberry Finn and see humanity, injustice of society, the crazy quiet awesomeness of the line, "All right then, I'll go to Hell." A kid who's no good at reading yet thinks aargh, this is so lame, why does he have to misspell the words all the time anyway, they're hard enough when they're spelled right, this suuuuucks! Without the ability to get beyond the mechanics, "good literature" means nothing. You can sound out the words all you like, but if you don't have a certain level of reading fluency, you'll be too focused on getting through it to realize what it's actually saying.

The only way to develop reading fluency is practice.

Izunya

Exir
06-14-2009, 10:24 AM
I find Harry Potter, as well as certain Stephen King books, to be well written. I think their literary merit is way undervalued.

On top of that, they're entertaining.

What's wrong with that?

HelloKiddo
06-15-2009, 12:09 AM
Thanks to everyone who replied. Great points!


Once they understand exactly why good literature (or scotch or music or whatever) is good, they will enjoy it.

I think this hits on one of the biggest problems with the school systems today (or at least what they were in my day.)

Kids aren't really made to understand what is great about great literature. When I was in school the teachers just threw a book at us and said, "Here, Catcher in the Rye. Read. Multiple choice test about the content next Friday." That was pretty much it.

With that system it's no wonder the kids find those books boring and don't understand what's special about them. Better instruction is the obvious solution, but is it practical?

That's my primary problem with Bloom's argument--I'm not sure it's taking a realistic look at today's schools.

Moxie
06-15-2009, 01:26 AM
But how do you define great? What criteria do you use? Is there some universal definition of 'great' that I am unaware of? I'm asking honestly because this idea of some books being of more worth than others does confuse me. I've always understood art to be subjective and believe a story gives as much or as little as you choose to take from it. There are certainly many aspects of writing that are not subjective, specifically technical ones, but are those the only way to evaluate this ephemeral concept of 'greatness'?

Serious Desi
06-15-2009, 01:40 AM
I struggled a lot with reading when I was in middle school but I did read Harry Potter and Eragon, even if it took me forever.

Well, now I am in AP English and read the Scarlet Letter, and understood it.

From the point of view of someone who struggled a lot with reading I have to say those books were confidence builders. Reading that amount of pages is a considerable feat.

And a lot of people don't understand the all the things kids have to go though and do. Vegging out with a Twilight book is better than vegging out in front of the T.V.

HelloKiddo
06-15-2009, 01:59 AM
I've always understood art to be subjective

QFT. Art is indeed subjective. By great books I simply meant the books that the literary community widely recognize as books of very high quality and works of great importance. Catcher in the Rye is an example of one such book. The Great Gatsby is another. Harry Potter and Twilight are books that the academic literary community generally does not consider to be works of very high quality and/or great importance.

Time may change that view, it's possible, but I'm talking about here and now.


a story gives as much or as little as you choose to take from it

That I do not agree with. Some stories have more to offer than others. Though I understand we will never create a finite definition of great art, I'll never agree that somebody randomly punching a keyboard with their fists for 300 pages has as much value as a copy of Wuthering Heights.

Moxie
06-15-2009, 05:56 AM
Okay, so we are taking great as a synonym for literary, yes?

As for the other quote, perhaps I didn't make it clear what I meant. I meant that statement to apply to professionally published works- ones that have been reviewed and generally accepted to be worthy of distribution. I did mention that the technical aspects of writing (tense, proper sentence structure etc) were not subjective, thereby eliminating works that are pure gibberish.

Literary works offer things unique to and characteristic of their category, but I still maintain that other genres offer different and equally valid experiences.

Christine N.
06-15-2009, 01:58 PM
have to say those books were confidence builders.

Quoted for truth. This is what I was saying a page or so ago. If you've (generic you) ever watched a child struggle to read, you would never force them to try and read beyond what they're capable of. If that means they read Magic Tree House or Harry Potter or Nancy Drew, that's what it means.

We have a way that we teach the children to choose books from the library: open the book and start reading the first page. Put up one finger for every word you can't understand. If you put up five fingers in a couple of pages, the book is too hard. If you don't put up any, the book is too easy. 2-3 fingers= just right. This lets kids choose a book that won't bore them or frustrate them.

Doesn't matter what the title is, it's the reading that matters.

CaroGirl
06-15-2009, 04:56 PM
When I was a kid I read the mind-numbingly stupid and famously badly written Flowers in the Attic series. Loved it. And then I went on to read and enjoy all kinds of literature so much, I got a degree in English lit and a diploma in journalism. Now I do tech writing for a living and dabble in fiction writing on the side (with an ambition of publication). Reading stuff that wasn't the "best" didn't ruin me as a kid. And it's not ruining this generation either. Chill.

Roger J Carlson
06-15-2009, 05:39 PM
But no one's saying Harry Potter is as good as John Updike. No one here, anyway. I will say it here and now. Harry Potter as as good as John Updike -- for people who like Harry Potter better than John Updike. There is no universal good or bad, no matter how much the literary intelligencia wants to establish their preference as "good".

A "good" book is one that 1) keeps a reader reading, 2) makes him/her satisifed at the end, and 3) instills a desire to read another like it.

Blooms argument is like saying that only French cooking is "good" because the flavors are subtle and complex. Mexican food cannot be good because it is spicy and if you only eat spicy food, you'll never be able to appreciate the subtle flavors of French cuisine.

Few people will flatly state that only French cooking is "good" while all other is "slop". Why do we do that with literature?

Roger J Carlson
06-15-2009, 05:52 PM
QFT. Art is indeed subjective. By great books I simply meant the books that the literary community widely recognize as books of very high quality and works of great importance. Catcher in the Rye is an example of one such book. The Great Gatsby is another. Harry Potter and Twilight are books that the academic literary community generally do not consider to be works of very high quality and/or great importance.The obverse of Bloom's argument: that encouraging children to read "good" literature (by his definition) will encourage them to read more, is easily is disproven.

In school, I read: Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle, and on and on and on. I hated them then, I hate them now. I was told that only this was good literature and nothing else. It set me against them for life.

I don't really care if Bloom approves.

aadams73
06-15-2009, 06:00 PM
I don't see me caring about what this Bloom person thinks any time soon. I have no interest in petty literary snobbery. I read all over the place, have done so since I was a child, and shall continue to do so.

I suspect he's a sad old man who wants a pat on the back and someone to affirm that he is still relevant.

Libbie
06-15-2009, 07:54 PM
Well, here's what I think. This opinion may be unpopular, but it's my honest opinion.

While I think it's super lame for this critic fellow to declare what will and will not "enrich the mind and soul," or however he put it, I agree with him to some degree.

First, let me make clear that the mind and soul can be and are enriched via imagination. If any book sparks one's imagination, it's an enriching experience. If it entertains, it's enriching. If it's fun, it's enriching. I get that. I read plenty of "literary slop" myself, just for the fun of it. I have always hated the attitude that if you're not reading the classics or the latest navel-gazing wordfest you're wasting valuable reading time. Implicit in that claim is that any author who writes anything with the goal of entertaining is a loser who will never be worth reading. That's ridiculous, obviously. If reading is fun for you, then it's not a waste of time; I don't care how you define "fun." And if you're writing just to entertain rather than to create Art That Will Stand The Test of Time And Also Illuminate The Human Condition (TM), then you're providing a valuable service, as is any other entertainer, and you deserve as much respect as the arteests.

But I DO see the harm in kids who only expose themselves to terrible writing, without sampling a wide variety and learning about all the literary options that exist. I'm thinking specifically of Twilight here. Sorry, Twilight fans. I tried to read it and I think it's beyond horrible. Miserable plot structure. Awful, lackluster (pardon the pun) characters. I've never seen such gnarly writing.

And I am dismayed at how many kids will only read Twilight. In some cases, they've restricted themselves to a diet of Twilight plus anything else that has vampires or werewolves in it; nothing else. I suppose it's good that they're branching out some from Twilight, but when Twilight has only turned them on to reading more vampire stories, and hasn't turned them on to more reading period, that's not a good thing in my book. Yeah, I do think that "literary slop" that is just for fun--such as Twilight--can have a negative impact on young people. If they get so hung up on it that they won't read anything outside the genre, then big woo--we've created a society of vampire fans and not much else has been accomplished toward promoting literacy.

Of course, that's the fault of the kids in question (actually, their parents, to be fair) and not Twilight. If parents don't interest their kids from a young age in reading, they're not going to grow up to care much about stories. I'm pretty sure that I got into reading and writing because I became familiar with the elements of story when I was a baby. I was read to all the time. My big sister taught me how to read when I was two. I was surrounded by stories practically from birth. I get story elements. If kids aren't getting the same kind of positive exposure to story, then I can see why they might find a lot of value in something as poorly constructed (in my opinion) as Twilight, and might glom onto it just because it has sparkly vampires and little else.

So, I'm of two minds. The attitude of the guy quoted is dumb. But the disproportionate popularity of "literary slop," especially among young people, says a lot about how we raise our kids these days. If we're not raising our kids to instinctively appreciate something so fundamental to our world as quality story structure, then we're screwing up in other ways as well, surely. And if we let kids survive on a diet of literary sugar alone, what will happen to the market for books that do speak to and illuminate the human condition? That is pretty sad to think about.

Fortunately, there are lots of great YA and MG writers out there who are producing some excellent literature that is also fun and entertaining. I just wish more kids would read it and get excited about it like they do for the slop.

CaroGirl
06-15-2009, 08:10 PM
While everyone should read widely, both children and adults, not everyone does. The young people who read Twilight might not be reading anything else, but if they didn't read Twilight, they'd be reading nothing at all. And at least that series might spark the idea in some young person that she can be entertained and engaged by reading, a concept that might not have occurred to her had she not read anything at all.

That's all pretty convoluted so I hope it makes sense to someone, somewhere.

Phaeal
06-15-2009, 10:07 PM
So what if Harry Potter is gateway reading for Stephen King? I'll put some of the writing in Salem's Lot against anything Bloom can pull out of his ass, er, I mean, his worshipful tomes.

And what, exactly, makes The Wind in the Willows more intellectual than Harry Potter? Wind is actually a much simpler story, beautiful in many places, hilarious in even more, but, Harold, it ain't deep. Not even with that Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter in there. Whereas HP addresses many issues of life, death, family, morality, friendship, and is, in fact, an enormous Bildungsroman. C'mon, Harold, anything's that's a BILDUNGSROMAN can't be all that bad.

And, moreover, HP has way more complex characters than Wind or Alice. I'm thinking of the deeply flawed Dumbledore and the redeemed in spite of himself Snape. Or, wait, am I to look upon the (surface) evolution of Toad as deep character writing? Jeez.

I started off reading Bomba the Jungle Boy books in the same gulp (as it were) as Huckleberry Finn. In fifth grade, I had Creepy and Eerie magazines on my nightstand, along with Gone with the Wind and Hiroshima and The Plague. Hmm, let's see. I think it was Crime and Punishment that was my gateway reading for Stephen King.

Man. Some people are so full of themselves it's amazing they still dare open their mouths to pontificate.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
06-15-2009, 11:16 PM
One of my kids follows Meyer's books and loves them. I haven't read them so can't evaluate the writing, but judging from the enthusiastic reception in so many YA, it strikes a chord.

Other work read by one of my children includes the Knife of Never Letting Go, Eva Ibbotson's work, anything history related, Pride and Prejudice etc. Another kid is into Pulman, Colfer, Douglas Adams and before that Sparkes (shape shifter). Earlier, Spiderwick Chronicles and Horrowitz as well as Horrible Histories/Science books.

He moved on from Horrowitz's books on Alex Rider with their very standard template, not high level writing but enjoyable books, to very different work.

I think YAs will sample a great variety and if a book sparks off interest, it is likely they will try other material, without the kind of barriers Not-So-YA developed :) I can't believe (perhaps won't believe) kids will read only one type of book and not develop from there ...

Christine N.
06-16-2009, 12:18 AM
The thing about kids is they go for the familiar. So if they like Twilight, they'll gravitate toward similar stuff for awhile. Then they'll find something new. Reading Twilight and backing it up with 25 other vampire novels will not scar them for life, and eventually they'll grow out of it. Or they won't and they'll start reading Laurel K. Hamilton :).

If you have kids you know when they're little they'll watch the same movie a zillion times, then finally grow bored. Same with books. Something new will eventually come along, and the good part is they've had lots of practice reading, so they'll be able to tackle it when it comes along.

Izz
06-16-2009, 12:42 AM
And I am dismayed at how many kids will only read Twilight. In some cases, they've restricted themselves to a diet of Twilight plus anything else that has vampires or werewolves in it; nothing else. I suppose it's good that they're branching out some from Twilight, but when Twilight has only turned them on to reading more vampire stories, and hasn't turned them on to more reading period, that's not a good thing in my book. Yeah, I do think that "literary slop" that is just for fun--such as Twilight--can have a negative impact on young people. If they get so hung up on it that they won't read anything outside the genre, then big woo--we've created a society of vampire fans and not much else has been accomplished toward promoting literacy.
Yeah, but it's very rare that someone who hasn't read much before will read a book and then immediately think, 'let's read The Great Gatsby, or some other classic.' People need reading stamina and they'll develop that by reading other things similar to what they enjoyed first up. Once time passes, then they'll move on.

It's the same deal with well-read adults who read all sorts of genres. They might go through a phase of reading crime fiction, as an example, then move on to historical, etc. From my personal experience (from about 8 years old and up): started with YA adventure books (Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, etc), read those like they were going out of fashion (read other books in between, but nowhere near as many as the adventure books), then discovered Agatha Christie and read a lot of her books (most of the 'classic' fiction i read--Jungle Book, Wind in the Willows, etc, i read during this time period), then branched out into reading other crime/detective fiction, then wanted a change, discovered science-fiction, read that voraciously, moved onto thrillers for a while, historical fiction, etc. Now i read all over the place, but i didn't always, and i still go through phases of reading one type of book for a while, and i think a lot of people work that way.

The element we're forgetting here is time. You can't expect an instant 'wow, all books are amazing,' after someone's just read a book and may never have finished one before. Most people don't work that way with anything. And it may even be a few years before a person who, for example, reads Twilight and other similar genre novels to start branching out. But i'm sure many of them will, just as i (and lots of others i know) grew up reading the 'literary slop' of our generation and haven't been harmed by doing so.

Libbie
06-16-2009, 01:03 AM
One of my kids follows Meyer's books and loves them. I haven't read them so can't evaluate the writing, but judging from the enthusiastic reception in so many YA, it strikes a chord.



Yeah, I suppose it must strike some kind of sparklepire, adjective-abusing chord. Whatever floats their boats, I suppose.

I will say that the Twilight craze has produced one good result. I got really sick of those sparkly "PRINCESS" t-shirts that everybody had to have. What a lame fad. Yesterday at work I saw a girl with a shirt that read, "I'm a PRINCESS, but I wish I was a VAMPIRE." I laughed.

Christine, good point about kids liking the familiar. When I was a kid I had a hard time finding more talking animal novels with an adult vocabulary so I read Watership Down 38 times before I graduated from high school. I interspersed it with other stuff, of course. But in my own special way I am as guilty as the Twilight nuts.

Isaac, I'm not suggesting that kids should jump right into classics. I don't care if they never read classics. It just seems weird and imagination-stifling to stick to one author exclusively, or to one teeny subgenre exclusively. And now that I've had a nap and thought about it some, it's really not the kids who are Twilight-exclusives that bother me. It's the adults. They are legion. And they should know better by now. I still feel that adults who limit themselves to one sliver of the literary world are indicative of a failed early childhood education. There is probably still plenty of hope for kids; see my comments on Watership Down above.

Ton Lew Lepsnaci
06-16-2009, 01:25 AM
I think some balance may be found at:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=131359

:)

Ton

Tanya Egan Gibson
06-16-2009, 01:35 AM
I think reading should be fun. I think "fun" comes in many forms for many people. And I think elitism is icky.

I blogged about this recently on Penguin's website: http://us.penguingroup.com/static/html/blogs/its-supposed-be-fun-tanya-egan-gibson

(My novel is about a teenager who hates reading, so it was a germane topic.)

HelloKiddo
06-16-2009, 07:35 AM
Okay, so we are taking great as a synonym for literary,yes?

No, that's not what I said. Even Mr. Bloom has recommended at least some genre books, and he's as stuffy as the stuffiest of literary critics.


As for the other quote, perhaps I didn't make it clear what I meant. I meant that statement to apply to professionally published works- ones that have been reviewed and generally accepted to be worthy of distribution. I did mention that the technical aspects of writing (tense, proper sentence structure etc) were not subjective, thereby eliminating works that are pure gibberish.

Books "generally accepted" to be worthy by those who have "reviewed" them (whoever that is) and the "technical aspects" of writing are all very general ideas that are basically worthless. I'm not trying to pick your point apart with semantics, but I still feel that some books have more to offer than offers. We may never agree, and I can accept that, but that's my view.



The obverse of Bloom's argument: that encouraging children to read "good" literature (by his definition) will encourage them to read more, is easily is disproven.

I don't understand this post.

Smish
06-16-2009, 07:50 AM
A kid reading a book, any book, instead of playing video games or watching tv for hours on end, is a beautiful thing.

Saskatoonistan
06-16-2009, 02:36 PM
My son is 19 now. When he was little, he read all the Goosebumps books like crazy - just devoured them. Does anyone remember if book critics savaged those novels with the same glee they use when ripping apart Harry Potter or Twilight?

Libbie
06-16-2009, 05:56 PM
My son is 19 now. When he was little, he read all the Goosebumps books like crazy - just devoured them. Does anyone remember if book critics savaged those novels with the same glee they use when ripping apart Harry Potter or Twilight?

I've never seen that happen. But IMO Twilight deserves to be ripped. I don't think it should get a free pass because "it's just a kids' book." That's insulting to the many smart kids who read and write excellent fiction.

I mean, have you read Twilight?

calley
06-16-2009, 05:59 PM
Harry Potter is the gateway book. Once they start, man... That's when they can work up to the good stuff.