Posted by: Kristen Hicks | July 10, 2012

On Art and Pretension

Among the things I hope for when I open a book of fiction is that each sentence I read will be right and true and beautiful, that the particular music of those sentences will bring me a pleasure I wouldn’t be able to find the exact equivalent of in another writer, that I will be continually surprised by what a particular writer reveals about particular human beings and the world they inhabit. A great book of fiction will lead me toward some fresh understanding of humanity, and toward joy —Dwight Allen

That’s a quote from an article devoted to decrying the popularity of the works of Stephen King, which the writer just cannot understand the appeal of. The article’s been criticized elsewhere for its pretension, and Allen himself is self aware enough to call himself pretentious within the article.

The line above made me cringe a little bit. Not because I don’t look for some of the same in my readings, but because it strikes me less as a celebration of what literature is capable of and more a criticism of those lowly types who read for lesser reasons than this esteemed author. I think it’s great when literature brings us the things Mr. Allen seeks every time he opens a book, but I find so much more to adore in literature and reading than that.

With expectations of great epiphanies and brilliance in every sentence, one misses out on the literature brings great knowledge and character development little by little over the course of many pages. Many books draw you in with an irresistible story and characters that keep you entertained and caring about how they will develop, without ever reaching the brilliance of Faulkner or Flaubert.

I wonder if Allen has given much thought to the status of Shakespeare and Dickens in their own time? Many of those we currently put on the pedestal of literary greatness were writing for audiences that had more in common with Stephen King’s fan base than your typical English professor.

What matters, at the end of it all, is that you’ve gotten something out of the experience. Whether that something be pleasure, greater knowledge of the world, an enhanced perception of how others live and think, new ideas, a better grasp of language or, even, a fresh understanding of humanity. Most of the books I pick up, be they literature, genre fiction, non-fiction or so-called YA literature, manage to successfully accomplish more than one of those categories.

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