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!
I was shocked recently by the comments from our Employment Minister Esther McVey on youth unemployment. We currently have the highest unemployment rate for young people for decades which she blames on our laziness and inability to step up our game and compete for work. Obviously nothing to do with her at all <cough cough>. As a graduate myself, finding it increasingly difficult to get work experience, I am very
very very irritated by her suggestions. I would not described myself as lazy. I describe myself as someone rudely awakened to the reality that life doesn’t get easier after completing education. It is just one of the many hurdles of life.
Esther McVey’s particular comment that caused an outcry was her suggestion that we all got jobs in Costa quoted by numerous newspapers (The Guardian and The Telegraph as examples) with incredulity….. Perhaps she does not realise that it is difficult to get a job in Costa? In fact any job is difficult to get however “menial” it is. I myself applied for Christmas temp jobs at various shops and had to go through multiple online questionnaires, telephone interviews and group interviews only to be told I didn’t fit their requirements. That was for a temporary job. So to say we are not trying I think displays her lack of awareness as to how easy it is to get a job at all- especially if like me you have studied at the expense of experience in the work place….
That is to say I do believe us young people (especially graduates) need to lower our expectations and not expect great things too soon. I have several friends that are turning down jobs in supermarkets and restaurants because it’s not what they want to do which I do think is slightly problematic. Yet there is a terrible irony in accepting a random job for money for by becoming employed in something that will not aid your chosen career you have limited time to gain experience in the subject/area of employment you’ve spent your education specialising for.
So what next? Does anyone else think there will have to be a shift in how people perceive education and employment? Because I sincerely do! Education should be given importance but not seen as the only path to success. There are many routes, and we should be shown all the routes. My experience of school and college reminds me of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Miss Brodie’s focus on improving her favourite girls. A kind of morbid conditioning that affects their feelings of self worth and intelligence in how well they succeed in impressing her. Society (I’m talking broadly of parents, teachers, and the media here) shows us that life will better if we succeed at education. You will be rewarded for doing well in education, and heavily criticised for doing “badly”. If you go to University you have won the education battle. But what everyone should really be telling us is that education does NOT give you unemployment immunity nor does it make you superior. It is simply a chance to find out what you want to do. And perhaps if they had told us that from the start we’d have done things from our own volition rather than a sense of childish
and smug entitlement.
Well finally I have succumbed to the temptation of blogging. I have always been slightly embarrassed of expressing my views in discussions with my fellow human beings (probably due to an inherent fear of being wrong) but perhaps I will feel less critiqued for my views whilst writing on the web. There is something gloriously secretive about writing your views on the web- freedom of speech and all that- enabling you to express your views uninhibited and unencumbered. Some will say that displays my naivete and ignorance of the world of cyber bullying, yet social media has expanding our tools for communicating and expressing ourselves; whether the best of ourselves or the worst.
Regrettably I am not a cyper wiz, preferring a good old book
and a bar of galaxy to the overload of tweets and tumblr posts some of my friends regard as relaxing fun, yet here I am. As a recent graduate in English Literature I am used to having my brain crammed with perplexing and unfixed ideas on the world, and now even though I am away from this I cannot (very very sadly) ignore it outside of University. It is like an illness that I both love and hate. I am STILL madly looking for answers to unanswerable questions. The paradoxes of life. And I am hoping that this blog will be an OUTLET for my rambling muses that keep me awake at night, consisting of:
- feminism in modern society
- horror film and gender analysis
- my FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER EVER EVER
- my hesitant discovery of books not yet canonised (yes, yes I am one of those annoying pretentious people that assume anything highly esteemed is GREAT and anything undiscovered is RUBBISH)