Discussion: “Real Literature”
Hi everyone! For today’s post, I wanted to talk a little bit more about my feelings on a recent entry into my Have I Read series here on my blog. The post in particular that I am talking about is Have I Read: BBC’s Top 100 Books You Need To Read Before You Die.
A little bit of background on this series first – I wanted to react to these lists that make these claims to be the “top X” in things like fantasy, books to read before you die, etc. Mainly, I wanted to see how many books on these lists I’ve actually read! My first list (NPR’s Top 100 Fantasy & Sci Fi) went fairly well, I read 10/100 but also had 32/100 that were either on my TBR list or ones that I have started but need to finish, so a total of 42/100.
When I chose the BBC list, I didn’t review any of the books that were on there before I started marking which books I’ve read and which ones I want to read. What very quickly became clear to me was that out of the 100 books on this list, the majority of these were classics. In fact, 89 of these books were first published before 2000, with 53 of them being published before 1950! Oh, and this list mentions THE BIBLE as being a book that you should read before you die. In fact, I was so bothered by this list containing mostly classics or modern classics that I made a chart showing the first year each of these books were published. Not a single book was published after 2005 on this list (the most recent was Cloud Atlas published in 2004).
Now, I don’t know when this list was created as I couldn’t find an official list from the BBC, and the list that I used (click here for that website) only says it was published 5 years ago (so around 2015), so you would think that there would’ve been something published between 2004 and 2015 that are worth reading before you die!
This list is quite honestly very lazy. Whoever decided on these books clearly tried to think of every classic they could think of, then realized they were just shy of 100 and so decided to throw in more modern books to reach 100. I mean, I realize that books such as Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have had an impact on children’s books today, but are they really books you need to read before you die?
This then brought me to the thought that to be a “real reader” you need to have a certain number of classics under your belt, which is 100% NOT true. I feel like this is a debate that pops up every now and then when someone tries to invalidate you when you tell them your favorite book and it’s not a classic. This can be especially true if your favorite genre is fantasy, because quite often people look down their noses because “fantasy isn’t real literature”. (And yes, this does happen).
And this thinking doesn’t just stop with fantasy. How many times have you seen someone who loves romance get told that those aren’t real books? Sometimes it’s other book lovers who are just being pretentious jerks, but (in my experience) I’ve found that it’s non-readers or people who don’t read very often who are the ones who look down on you for what you choose to read and what is considered “real literature”. I mean, the amount of times that’s happened to me alone is pretty ridiculous.
Not only does this happen with readers, but another example of this is with movies! I’m sure we’ve all seen the news articles about Martin Scorsese’s opinion that “Marvel movies aren’t cinema”, even though they can also discuss real world issues and create dialogue between people. Martin then went on to “clear the air” by saying that cinema is an art form:
“For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.”
It’s so easy to replace cinema and the Marvel franchise with classic literature and any other genre (fantasy, romance, science fiction, you name it) and see the issue that I have with this thinking. It’s very elitist and condescending to people who see these other genres – be it movies or books – as being just as emotional or spiritual. You can still get the same life lessons and feelings from a book set in a magical world as you can with one written in the 1800s. In fact, they probably handle more modern day issues than something written in the time where women were still the property of their husbands.
So basically this discussion post is to rant about how I don’t like when people consider classics to be the only books worth reading in your life, because there are so many other great books out there! What are your thoughts on this?