Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Quality Argument

Anyone out there like to read Moby Dick?  Or War and Peace?  How about Lord of the Flies?  I must confess that although I've read each of them, I'd rather jab a sharp needle into my eye than do it again.  However, we're told over and over that these are "literary classics" that should be held up as some of the greatest pieces of writing out there.

COUGH *bullshit* COUGH

Quality is subjective, and half the time I think that folks latch onto what others claim are quality pieces of work just to demonstrate their bona fides with the hoity-toity group that makes up a lot of reading groups.

Quality, to me, is a story that I enjoy.  I want to go back to it over and over because I want to re-experience the magic and emotions I felt when I first read it.  I want to skim back through to see what hidden gems I missed the first time.  Did I catch all of the clues?  Was that minor detail mentioned in chapter 3 really a throwaway, or did I miss something that would've let me in on a later part of the plot?

Some artsy-fartsy types like to look down their noses at what the masses like to read.  "It's too low brow," they'll proclaim, as if a true artist has to have a boring plot and enough minutiae to choke a horse in order to be considered "quality."  These people put down World War Z or Ender's Game in favor of The Red Badge of Courage and are barely able to contain their derision for what we peasants have the audacity to enjoy.

However, I wonder how much of this pumping up of other books is genuine, and how much is designed just to make them look better and more classy than the rest of us.  Such things remind me of an episode of Friends where Chandler and Joey are playing a trivia game against Monica and Rachel over who knows more about the other pair.  During the "lightning round," Ross asks Chandler and Joey to name what Rachel claims is her favorite movie, to which Chandler responds, "Dangerous Liaisons."  Then Ross asks what Rachel's actual favorite movie is, to which Joey sneers, "Weekend at Bernie's."

I thought this was a perfect illustration of the disconnect that we see between what people want others to think they like versus what they really enjoy.  We seem so status conscious in our culture that most of us are unable to enjoy those things looked down on by the "elite" in society, even going so far as to refer to them as "guilty pleasures."  Sorry, but I refuse to allow any of my pleasures to be "guilty."  I think it's dishonest and presents a false mask to the world.

I like the book The Guns of the South.  I think it's well written, fast paced, and has characters you care about.  To me, it's quality literature.  However, when I mentioned this to a professor friend of mine, you'd have thought I stabbed him in the gut.  It was too pedestrian for him, and certainly not up to the standard set by people like Isaac Asimov or Frank Herbert.  Frankly, although I recognize the trailblazing path set by those gentlemen, I think both of their works are boring beyond belief and not good examples of quality, and I said so.  The look on his face was priceless.
(Even Rachel can't believe I don't care for Asimov)
Given what we've seen pass for quality literature in bookstores recently, I don't think those in the industry have any more idea about what constitutes quality than the rest of us.  "But those are published books!" some people will protest.  That may be true, but it doesn't make it something the masses will want to read.  And given the state of book sales, as well as the rise in indie publishing, I think that traditional publishers don't have a clue about what is a quality piece of work.  For every Harry Potter novel out there, there are probably 20 books like Pregnesia.  When things like this make it past publishers and editors and somehow end up on shelves, that doesn't speak well to the tastes of those in the know.

We have to understand quality if we are to produce it ourselves.  Don't let yourself get sucked in by the supposed stature of a book - judge for yourself what's good and what isn't.  You might be surprised by what you find.


  1. I truly loved reading today's post... I agree 100% with all you wrote. I am not a published writer, I blog my life and am only an everyday person... a peasant, if you will :)))

    I don't care who wrote it... if the words carry me through to the end.... 'that's quality work'.

    :))) Just a Granny Gee/Gloria opinion/comment. I loved reading this, it's my view, also.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it. Quality is what we like, not what we "should" like.

  2. OK Russ....thanks for the confirmation.... I am not alone. I mean seriously....I wanted to gouge my eyes out when I was reading Shakespeare and alike in school.

    Fortunately I never had to because those type of books put me to sleep. I read to escape, open new worlds and learn.

    I have a new baby and I wanted to buy a collection of alleged classics to read him. Then I decided...screw that...hit your bookshelf and read him some of your favorite books.

    1. I think there's a clause in every teacher's contract that forces them to make us read garbage we wouldn't pick up if we had a choice. Nobody I know reads that crap once they have the choice not to.

      BTW, once you get mine, make sure you read your boy my book. OK, maybe grant him a few years so it doesn't give him nightmares, but get him ready! :-D