Now I have always seen a very CLEAR division between popular fiction and literature. The Oxford Dictionary defines literature as that which is ‘considered of superior or lasting artist merit’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/literature) which in itself completely separates literature and popular fiction. However I feel that this contrast leaves contemporary fiction in an ambiguous place on the bookshelf- timidly sitting next to Lady Chatterley’s Lover and reluctantly besides Twilight. If the very essence of literature is its ability to be prevalent years after its publication how can something contemporary show its importance without waiting several decades?
You would think society would welcome contemporary fiction into the curriculum to push students to think about their own society and how they can impact it by challenging their assumptions and strive to make society better? But no. GCSE English syllabuses normally lean towards the studies of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I am not saying that these are not brilliant texts to study but the emphasis on older texts classifies literature as something from the past teaching children and budding writers alike that good writing outlives its era….and author. Indeed many of the most celebrated authors and playwrights of today (Shakespeare, John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe etc.) had limited success in their lifetimes compared to their considerable popularity in contemporary society. Therefore we should be optimistic about the status of our contemporary novels and wait with bated breath to see which ones will become the masterpieces of the future.
Now my question for you is: can contemporary fiction be both popular and of literary merit? I am going to write my reviews for a variety of 21st century fictional works and see what I can gleam. These selections I will make through a combination of their popularity, critical acclaim and friendly recommendations (I am happy for anyone to send recommendations on my blog) to ascertain whether the definition of literature needs to be adapted to an art form that cannot only give us an insight into the lives of different cultures, histories and societies, but show us different ways of viewing the world we live in NOW.
Check this spot!