Saturday, April 25, 2009

Literary Seniority

Suppose I give you two books: One is a life-changing, multi-award winning (and deservedly so) novel and the other is well written as well, but it's more for entertainment and for enjoyment. I want to say commercial, but I believe award-winning books can have a commercial bend as well.

You love both books equally but for different reasons. One makes you you laugh, entertains you, and you're dumbstruck by how happy it makes you (Book #2); the other (Book #1) gets you to think and you marvel at the language and you're just dumbstruck by its brilliance.

Which one would you say is a greater accomplishment? It's obvious both authors love the craft and their characters, but which one would you say is more valuable than the other?

19 comments:

Amy said...

I have a hard time choosing between the two. I just finished confessions of a triple shot Betty, which wasn't the most thought provoking, but it was so hilarious and I adored the characters. I like deep meaningful books too though, one's I can relate to. I guess I'd have to say both because it's like intelligence. Some people are smart in their own ways, be it musically or academically, yet both are smart. Hopefully that made sense. I'm a very indecisive person :-)

Steph said...

Ha, Amy, I know exactly what you mean which is why I ask. I thought it'd be an interesting discussion.

courtney said...

Ooh, Steph. Nice questions. My answer:

Fiction being as subjective as it is, all novels have the potential to be life-changing, whether they're mainstream or commercial or literary, award winning or not. I'd think genre and style has little to do with something like that. I think the type of novels you've described and the hypothetical reactions they inspire in readers make them of equal value and equal accomplishment, albeit for different reasons. I don't think a commercial novel's strengths are a literary novel's weakness, you know? Not interested in comparing apples to oranges. I'm super leery of quantifying novels in the way the question you've proposed demand because what I read is personal to me. How I receive a book, how I judge its worth, can depend on so much more than its perceived literary merit... and thank goodness for that, I says. :)

Looking forward to other people's answers!

Taren said...

I'd have to say the first. I laugh all the time, but am only infrequently moved by brilliance.

Donna said...

I think it's a misnomer to attribute one as having more value than the other. They both elicit different emotions, get the brain rolling and, most importantly, are being read. They're both equally valuable in their own separate ways.

Now to the greater literary community, the guys with the leather elbows and pipes would say book number one because of it's thought provoking and eloquent nature. The greater public would say book number two because, let's face it, the greater reading public isn't entertained by literary novels. The proof is int he fact that they're usually not big sellers. The public wants to be entertained when they read and read something they enjoy instead of something that'll twist their brain into a knot trying to understand.

I'd like to think book number two means just a little more because of it's ability to reach more people but both can be equally as valuable as the other.

Saundra Mitchell said...

I think they're equally valuable. We need books of exquisite pleasure as much as we need books of epiphany and art. In fact, I'd wager to say that without BOTH, books would disappear from the mass consciousness, becoming a random, niche interest like trainspotting.

Amee said...

Both. I don't think either one is better than the other. They each have their own merits. Like Amy said, it's like people, we're all different but no one better than the other. Just different.

Elizabeth said...

As described, I don't think I can say one is better than the other.

But. I do think think there is a greater achievement in books that make you think more deeply about something in a new way than in books that don't.

Like, I'll probably have read Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever more times in my life total than I'll read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation. But I think the latter is clearly a far greater achievement. It makes me think more new thoughts. That matters.

In your hypothetical, the reason I can't judge it is that I feel like that issue, which for me is the key, is being conflated with some other things (pretty language, "seriousness") that are secondary to me.

But I don't think it's snobbery or elitism to say that some books contribute something very important that other books just don't, independent of the enjoyment we take from either of them (which varies by person, of course).

Liviania said...

Neither. Apples to oranges.

Anonymous said...

I'd go for the "life changing" literary one where I am moved by its brilliance, personally.

Here's why: Certain books (#2 category) make me laugh or feel good, light, airy. I'm glad I read them and they take my mind off my troubles for awhile, that's all good.

But then there are other books (#1st category) that linger. The lingering effect is really important to me as a reader. If I'm not even remotely trying to think about the book, and yet scenes from it or dialogue from it are popping into my head throughout the day, I know that is a damn good book. After I close the book and am done with it, I'm not neccessarily thinking of a brilliant sentence structure or an interesting format, I'm thinking about those characters, where they are now? What are they doing? This is usually because the characters have that certain sort of introspection that makes them come alive. A character's introspection -- when it brings to light something I've always thought but have never been able to put into words, makes me feel understood as a human being.

I'll take understanding, and feeling less alone in the world any day over just laughing at a few paragraphs.

I'm halfway through reading Audrey, Wait! right now. It's fun and bubbly, and I think the writing is fine but I've yet to come across a single instance where I actually know how Audrey feels -- much less feel the same as I do. I already know it won't linger, though it is an undoubtedly "fun" book. Sorry this comment is so unGodly long! :)

sweetmelissa818 said...

Definitely the second one! Awards can only go so far, but something that makes you think and completely awes you is one in a million!

Jena said...

That is so not a good question, because there are far too many variables involved. Most valuable to whom? Society at large? Book groups? The publisher? What kind of value?

The greater accomplishment will probably be told 10, 15 or 20 years from now--if either book is still being widely read. And it's subjective anyway.

kalea_kane said...

Dang! That was a great question. Honestly, I think both would have to be decided by the author. What did they want to accomplish, because if my reactions have met the goals the author had in mind, it is all gravy. I get so much from both types of books I imagine I'd have to keep them both.

Anonymous said...

As a wannabe writer I want to create something thought provoking, moving, and inspiring. If it sells well or has commercial appeal mores the better, but it isn’t priority number 1.
As a reader sometimes I crave brain candy (Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer) and sometimes I want to be challenging (Feed by M. T. Anderson), but it’s the best when the two combine (Graceling by Kristin Cashore). That’s what I want to read and hopefully… one day… write.

beth said...

For me, the answer would simply be: which one meant more to me? Some would argue Harry Potter is pure entertainment, but it had me crying more than a Shakespearean play. It touched me on a deeper emotional level. The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a YA book that, though successful, is still relatively little known--but I still think it's one of the best books I've ever read.

Ronni said...

I'm going to say they're both great accomplishments. They were completed books, and written in a way to get the attention of an agent or an editor. Then, the reader loves them both. If that's the case, neither is better than the other. They're both great in their own way.

inkspatters said...

I think it depends, of course they'd both be great achievements and very valuable, but I might go for Book # 2, because something that completely blows me away with its brilliance is a lot rarer than something full of great characters etc.

On the other hand, I like Harry Potter better than I like, well, pretty much anything else. So there are always exceptions. And I think truly great books can be brilliant and award-winning and use great language as well as entertain me with a darn good story. Authors like Meg Rosoff have won awards for their writing, but her characters still captivate me and her plots are great too :)

Sarah Quigley said...

Lemme guess: Book #2 is TMI, and Book #1 is WINTERGIRLS. Am I right?

katayoun said...

i think i'm programmed to think that book #1 is the greater accomplishment!! it's just that i feel writing something fun and hilarious is easy (i KNOW that it's not and yet i say that i'm programmed that way). though sometimes there is the lasting power, sometimes fun books would lose their brilliance by time or they are restricted to certain age group or gender, so maybe that's why i would go with #1 being a greater accomplishment, though if i were to buy only one of them then i might buy #2 first! :)

Post a Comment

Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph