Thursday, November 3, 2011

Literary Blog Hop - The Story A Story Has To Say

I missed the Literary Blog Hop like an idiot last month, but I am making amends now. If you don't know what the Hop is, it's a blogging activity hosted by Ingrid and her army of smart reviewers at The Blue Bookcase. They are beautiful, fierce and smarter than you. They're awesome. If you're looking to participate to the hop, hop over here for the rules. This month's prompt is...


To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience? 

If too many years of Academia brought me one thing, is to how to get over what I call "the good story syndrome". There's nothing I find less convincing than a reviewer that says: "I really enjoy the story, I related to the characters". While I'm not annoyed by it because I'm aware not everybody has the same relationship to literature that I have (and I tend to take everything WAY too seriously), I'm not going to pick up a book because somebody told me that.

I'm a firm believer that a story is never really just a story. It's a set of values, it's themes and problems that are dear to the author, who portrays them in a story. Those are the elements I'm looking for when I read. For example in FIGHT CLUB, alienation was a recurrent theme. The narrator feels clumsy and inadequate in front of the projection of his ideal self. He doesn't have an identity anymore. Beyond the story of anarchism and small time terrorism, I related to the alienated members of the fight club, who were brainwashed by mass media and were being awoken to something new by Tyler. To a certain extent, those elements are part of the story, but you have to break them down to understand how they reach out to you. Why you're touched by a certain story and not by another, if they're both good.

Some people refuse to go see beyond the story, because they're scared it will take away from the purity of the reading experience. I disagree. I acquired this really visceral relationship to reading by gaining understanding on how it affected me. That allowed me to know myself better and know what I like better too. That said, I'm not your language nut, who will start dislocating stories sentence by sentence to see who has the best handle on language and start loving sentences and paragraphs before I love a novel. There's a certain level I don't go to. I'm not going to stop the flow of reading to analyze anything. I do it in between two sittings.

I think everybody could benefit from a certain level of analysis and critical thinking on their reading, but I can understand why people don't do it. There's a part of alienation towards literary studies in that. It's perceived as a snobbish, high brow and useless discipline, which I think it fundamentally wrong. There is a purpose to literature other than to entertain. Stories have stories to tell. You just have to have your ears opened and be focused, you will hear them.

7 comments:

  1. Ben, guess what, I'm going apply to Comp Lit MA programs next fall! Are you excited for me??

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  2. Haha! I'll give you one advice. Get the teacher you get along the best with for director and not the "summity". Usually they're cluttered with students and don't give a shit about the thesis.

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  3. Will do. I have to say, I'm a little nervous about it ... I really feel like my writing needs some serious improvement, and I'm kind of self concious about it. I think graduate school will force me to improve. I did fine as an undergrad, but graduate school is a little intimidating ...

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  4. I do think its about finding a balance between making sure you can immerse yourself in the story, and thinking more deeply about its contents. I do try to remember though that not everyone has the same education and therefore the ability to analyse a book beyond "It was good and I related to the characters", I've certainly never studied literature and think that my analysis skills are very much lacking. But I do think its important to really give some thought to the book beyond "it was good" and "it was bad" if you really want to appreciate what you have read as much as you can

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  5. I would like to echo the sentiments of Becky (Page Turners) in that a reader does have to find a balance between the two. While sometimes its good to analyze a book, its also important to remember that not every book needs a really deep analysis and sometimes a book is just meant to be read and enjoyed. Personally I find that if I just read a book and enjoy it that I can get more out of the book than if I am purposefully looking for any sort of meaning that can go towards a meaningful anaylsis.

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  6. I agree that everybody can benefit from some literary analysis, so long as you don't ignore the story completely for the analysis. In literature there is something to the story beyond the plot and it's (usually) worth the trouble to look for it.

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  7. "Some people refuse to go see beyond the story, because they're scared it will take away from the purity of the reading experience".
    Well, I don't. But I feel silly at trying to go beyond the story, even when I read less demanding stuff to review on my blogs. However, my tendency to analyse, draw parallels, find analogies and differences doesn't diminish my love for books and reading.
    Great! I love the discussions going on all over the participating blogs. Glad to have found all of you!

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