Literary Blog Hop: Why is this soooo hard?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It has been ages since I've participated in the Literary Blog Hop, and although I'm a little late in the time frame for this one, I just couldn't resist the question. The ladies at The Blue Bookcase ask:

Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that were not difficult?

Obviously, this requires a bit of a definition of literary writing. The LBH itself defines literary as a text with aesthetic merit. I would elaborate on that to say perhaps that the text is also meant to do more than entertain. For example, the Sweet Valley Junior High books (which I insatiably devoured, I should add) were not written to illustrate something beautiful or describe part of the human condition that has great meaning. I'm sure the author tried to write them well (I honestly can't remember if she succeeded), but entertainment was her main focus. They came out at the end of every couple of months. They talked about drama and crushes. They were fun, but they were not literary. Does that make sense?

With that said, I don't think literary fiction has to be difficult. I am frequently irritated by people who think that a book must be inaccessible to be literary. I think many of our most inaccessible books are very literary - they are experiments in style, or part of the statement they make is in being different and difficult to digest. However, that is only one side of literariness (I didn't think that was a word and am now very pleased to find that Blogger isn't marking it as misspelled. Now I can use it in good conscience). Honestly, I think it is to the advantage of a literary work to not be too inaccessible - how can it touch people if nobody wants to read it? (Unless perhaps the author is an elitist and shudders at the thought of the uncultured masses enjoying his/her book).

The question is, do these "easy" yet literary works exist? One of the first authors that came to my mind is L.M. Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books. These are certainly classics. I'm not sure if everyone would define them as literary because they are written for a young age, but even fifteen years after reading them for the first time I am enchanted by the language and the lovely simplicity of the lifestyle Montgomery creates. I think if they were truly only for entertainment value, the books wouldn't have held up this long.

I also thought of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I have been slowly rereading for a book club. I first read this book when I was very young and had little appreciation for the harmony of a beautiful sentence or a strong truth in literature. However, as I've read the book a few short chapters at a time, I have been taken aback by the elegance of the writing and the humanity of the story. It is so simple a child can read and enjoy it, but it has truths about human nature and love that can evoke emotion in an adult.

So no, I don't think literature has to be hard. I don't discount the literature that is hard, because often the struggle yields a very worthwhile harvest. (Many have referenced their first exposure to Jane Austen and contrasted it to their enjoyment of her work today). But I will never turn up my nose at literature because it is too easy.


  1. The Secret Garden is a great example of a book that is literary but also easy to read. A Little Princess by the same author is great too :)

  2. I'd say that the Anne books are definitely literary!

  3. I agree that literary writing does not have to be inaccessibly difficult or stylistically hard to comprehend to be literary, but it should provoke thought on some level.

    I like your thought about literary writing doing more than entertaining - that's what I was trying to say in my post too - you managed to put it more succinctly than I did. :)

  4. I find that many children's picture books are literary. Much in little. Like poetry.

  5. @Sam - Yes, I loved that as a little girl too but haven't read it since growing up. I'm going to have to reread that one as well!

    @As the Crowe flies - I am glad you think it is :)

    @everybookandcranny - I agree with you. If it doesn't provoke thought... what is it doing other than entertaining? I think literary writing has to have meaning.

    @Deb Nance - I am lately discovering that as well, after some powerful experiences with children's books. I am looking forward to having kids and starting my own collection!


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