Anne Jackson recently posed a question asking “What’s missing from today’s books?” I’m a bit disappointed that, on the surface anyway, her query was geared toward an analysis of “the market,” but I see where she is going with this. As an English teacher, the question jumped off the screen and sat on my lap, begging to be answered, but drooping lids prevailed and I retired early to bed (without setting the alarm- let me tell you, it was an exciting morning!).
Here’s C.S. Lewis on the subject of great literature:
Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, or comic… My own eyes are not enough for me. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.
This is a quote I share with my students at the beginning of the year. The desire and ability to “become a thousand men and yet remain myself,” is the essence of an intelligent and broad perspective reaching out to understand the world around him/her.
But is this the literature of which Anne speaks? My assumption (and this is only an assumption) is that she is speaking about books akin to her own, such as Mad Church Disease. I’m not sure. However, I did find an article I thought quite illuminating on what the current market demands. In a nutshell: kids’ books. Susan Carpenter of the LA Times writes in the article “Young Adult Lit Comes of Age” that
It used to be that the only adults who read young adult literature were those who had a vested interest — teachers or librarians or parents who either needed or wanted to keep an eye on developing readers’ tastes.
But increasingly, adults are reading YA books with no ulterior motives. Attracted by well-written, fast-paced and engaging stories that span the gamut of genres and subjects, such readers have mainstreamed a niche long derided as just for kids.
Recently, I whipped through CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, both in print and in a wonderful radio drama version, and currently I am dipping a tentative foot into Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, about a boy who finds out he is half Greek…god.
I am starting to label myself a Recovering English Major. I went through my modernist and post-modern lit as an undergraduate, read and over analyzed “deep” literary fiction, and ultimately came up with the novel idea of actually reading a STORY. It took some heavy lessons learned and essays culled by CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, GK Chesterton, and George MacDonald, among others, to realize that “sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said.”
Is it what the market wants? Apparently. Is it what the market needs? Definitely.
Now you’ll have to excuse me…I already know the dragon exists, but I must continue my quest to defeat it.