In class, I tried to articulate that some books are definitely of a higher literary quality than other books. I define this “higher literary quality” as the way in which the book was written. “Literary” authors agonize over HOW they write the book through word choices, sentence structure, characterization, and other literary devices. “Genre” authors value plot and action over the quality of the writing.
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But now I'm back in school and taking a class that’s not teaching me how to write, but teaching me how to teach to adolescents to read and write, and suddenly the idea of what’s “good” and “bad” literature changes. Wilhelm discusses the benefits of “formulaic fiction” (which I have described as “genre” fiction above). He says he is “continually impressed by the depth and intensity of student response” to these books, even though he himself feels only disgust when reading them (50).
Wilhelm outlines three benefits of reading formulaic fiction:
1. “…these formulaic books speak to the students and are helping them discover the power of reading, and that they often lead to the reading of other material.”
2. “…reading mysteries to “rest” between what [Wilhelm’s wife] describes as “intense” literary experiences.”
3. “…readers of what might be considered trash literature (like the romance) actually use it in highly creative or resistant ways that must be considered “literary transactions.””
Wilhelm makes valid points here, but I still feel very strongly that some books are of higher literary quality than others. I feel sick in my stomach when I hear someone refer to the Twilight series as great literature, especially when that same person has not read or does not understand books by authors like Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, or Barbara Kingsolver.
But I guess it is time for me to stop thinking of literature just in terms of being a literary author. I now need to consider it in terms of teaching students, too. I guess what a reader chooses to read depends on the reader’s goals, and in the case of adolescents, it’s probably better that they read books by R.L. Stine than nothing at all.