Thursday, September 8, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: WHY ARE THESE BOOKS SO HARD? (snicker)

The Literary Blog Hop is hosted by The Blue Bookcase. This week's question is: must all literary writing be difficult?

Word Of Truth (also known as my answer):

Heck to the no, home skillet!

There are muchas cosas that people mean when they say "that book was hard." I offer my translation, based on tome/time period:

"I hate Austen! (S)He's so HHAARRDD." Ok, first of all, your mom. Second of all, what they really mean is: I'm not used to subtlety. I like my wordy bits to HIT ME LIKE A TON OF DAN BROWN, BITCHES."

"I hate Dickens! He's so HHAARDD." That's what she said. Also, translation: It's so long (see also: Tolstoy, Leo), and there are so many commas, and so much description. Where's the ACTION? WHERE'S THE LUDLUM?!

"Ugh, James Joyce/Virginia Woolf/William Faulkner/Proust. So hard." Translation: I'm not up to putting the effort into a non-linear narrative (or a book with no narrative at all). Screw you, stream of consciousness. SCREW YOU. I want Thing A Happened to Person 1, and Person 1 said This, and Married Person 2, and The End.

"Man, Hemingway is so hard." Translation: I'm a frickin' frackin' moron. I like my Meyer with a side of Sparks. 

"Dude, DFW is hard. So is Franzen. And have you READ anything by Franzen? DI. FFI. CULT." Translation: I dunno, you may be right. I haven't read them. Because, you know. I hear they're hard.

Anyway, what I'm driving at here is that literary fiction doesn't need to be difficult, but "difficult" in and of itself is pretty subjective. I may breeze through Bronte with ease, while you may think all the wordy, gothic darkness is mind-numbingly hard for your brain-plow. 

Of course, this really boils down to your definition of literary fiction to begin with. If you ask some people, they will probably say something like "hard, boring, pretentious." I will say that literary fiction involves thinking and effort, but that effort and hard are not synonyms, unless you're a lazy pud (which I can be QUITE frequently, as you know). And then there's content...I still haven't gotten through Kafka's The Trial because thinking about law and justice hurts my sensitive grey matter. Someone more interested in these topics wouldn't find the book difficult. Give me a provincial novel about living on the moor ANYDAY. Those are my JAM. 

So. Does "literary" equal "no me likey ees too hard?" Why do so many people equate literary fiction with difficulty? 


  1. I think commercial fiction is boring. And if I have to consume one more piece of media involving vampires, I'm going to go into a Boredom Coma.

  2. Great answer! Books also get a reputation for being hard too, and that puts people off, even when they aren't actually that hard.

  3. You made my day. This post is just awesome. Literary doesn't have to mean hard and I've learned that I usually appreciate the book a bit more if I had to work at it.

    p.s. I've read The Corrections and Freedom and in my (not so) humble opinion, Franzen sucks.

  4. I guess it's whatever your thing is. Some people like to be challenged and some just want to escape for awhile. You can get both from literary books though. Like you say, it depends on what your personal definition of difficult is.

  5. It's kind of a ridiculous question, me thinks. I'm sure vampire novels are difficult to many teenagers of limited intelligence - just as John Irving or Richard Russo or Philip Roth or any other purveyor of modern literary fiction would be considered difficult by people who only read Twilight. But for we normals who can tie our shoes and chew gum at the same time, it ain't difficult, of course.

    And yeah, if you think Hemingway is difficult, get ye to your Meyer.

  6. PS. Franzen does NOT suck. He rules. And he's not difficult.

  7. Kit- WHY WON'T IT GO AWAY? Egads.

    Sam- I blame school.

    Melissa- No! Don't tell me that...I have THE CORRECTIONS around here somewhere...

    Chris- Exactly- which is why it's the perfect genre.

    Greg- I agree.

  8. This post is hhhaaard, I don't know what LUDLUM is!
    I will take that provincial novel on the moors though ;)

  9. I don't really have an answer to your question. :) I don't read many "literary" novels, as they require more attention than my mind can give in the evening when finally everything is quiet.
    But I can say this - Austen rules. :) I love her books (ok, I could do without Mansfield Park). And I don't find her subtlety that subtle. I mean, everyone speaks to people of the opposite gender like that (in modern language of course), don't they?

  10. you funny. you funny-bunny.

    No, seriously. "I like my Meyer with a side of Sparks" made me snort a little wine. But don't you be hatin' on my Mansfield Park!

  11. As a college instructor, I hear this ALL the time. I think a big part of it is simply that students are forced to read a lot of books in school that they really don't like it. And often the units are drawn out, and the novels lose something.

    I get that. But also - it comes down to opinion. I'm not a Franzen fan. That doesn't mean he isn't a good writer. It just means I don't like him. On the other hand, I really enjoy Flaubert, Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway. Some of you may not.

    As for the "hard" question: many students, for a lot of reasons, don't have great vocabularies or a good handle on the English language. And it can be difficult for them. But if they read, I don't criticize what they read. I'm just glad they're reading.

  12. I just stumbled across your blog via the BBAW shortlist page (congrats btw!) and had to say hello. In the few minutes I've been perusing the site, I have giggled several times and snorted once so loudly that my husband, who is sitting across the room, turned his attention from whatever YouTube video he was absorbed in and gave me a strange look. Funny + substance is a rare combination, and I'm glad BBAW exists to help me find these excellent new blogs!

  13. I tend to think that as a reader you do need to put more effort into literary fiction. The prose might be easy enough, but the themes, characters, ideas etc probably need a lot more thought than a Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer. That's where the challenge lies. So, it doesn't have to be difficult, but I think that if you are putting some effort in, you probably will find it more difficult or challenging than popular fiction

  14. This post is awesome. You are the funny. Thanks for making my night before I head back to the world of commas and non-action that is The Mysteries of Udolpho!

  15. A great response! I think people have different expectations when they pick up a book. Sometimes I do think literary fiction is a bit more work, but you get what you put in to it. And it's so much worth it.

  16. I love this post. Classics are my favorite books and I'm a little wary sometimes about responding to people who say they're too hard. I kinda sorta want to mock them sometimes, which is super not nice or polite. So I don't. I love that you included the mistake people make sometimes of assuming Austen is a man - I hear that sometimes and I really don't understand it. Have they been under a rock during the Austen love-fest explosion of the last several years?
    Anyway, now you think I'm mean. But I'm not. I just think that the best way to think that reading classics is not hard is practice, practice, practice. It's so worth it. They are classics for a reason. P.S. I'm a new follower and am loving what I've explored so far!