Critically Thinking & Reading

Tournament of Books 2015 had begun, and a few of the conversations generated on Monday got me to thinking… Are ALL books worthy of a critical eye, or do only “literary” books make the cut?

This came up because of the discussion of Adam, by Ariel Schrag versus The Bone Clocksby David Mitchell.  The first, a contemporary novel, that many believed to be from the young adult genre – although it, in fact, isn’t – and the second, a literary tome from a highly regarded author. Both the Tournament judges, as well as other sources I came across, gave the critical eye to The Bone Clocks, ripping it apart detail by detail, whereas towards Adam, a highly controversial book in its portrayal, with endless topics for dissection, the comments were along the lines of “whatever, I liked it,” “it was funny,” or “it was easy to read.” I read several comments, as well as heard on a podcast, that the reader didn’t take Adam seriously, because it was YA (which, again, it isn’t). This is not going to be a post about why I hated Adam, but used more as a conversation starter.

Does a book deserve to not be taken seriously or considered critically just because it comes from a certain genre? I read YA from time to time, and don’t think simply because a book is classified as YA (or fantasy, or whatever genre) it shouldn’t be discussed in any literary way. Disregarding a book based on genre alone, does an injustice to the book itself, as well as any of the interesting or thought-provoking topics it presents.

Sure, are there poorly written YA novels? Of course. But, are there poorly written adult literary fiction novels, or memoirs, or science fiction, or books by otherwise critically-acclaimed authors…? YES.

And really now, who decides on what genre a book fits into? Publishers? Authors? Booksellers? Readers? Marketing?

What do you think readers? Do you think it’s fair to disregard a book simply based on genre alone? Are true “literary” books the only ones worthy of a critical discussion?

 

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15 thoughts on “Critically Thinking & Reading

  1. Interesting. I had very similar thoughts reading the judging… I felt that the critical eye was entirely directed on The Bone Clocks. I mean, it could be because it was the winner… but I think the real reason might be what you mentioned.

    I have to admit though, the discussion from the fans in Disq was more satisfying because people started to talk about ALL the things I was hoping would be brought up by the judges. For a tournament that is supposed to be “not serious” and a jovial way to discuss books… I thought that all the topics that would have been interesting to discuss were avoided. Instead we got another literary snobbish look at highly regarded books and THAT has been done.

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    1. PREACH! I was hoping for a great discussion on Monday, and was completely deflated. As you said, thank goodness for the comments section where we all could lick our wounds. And yes, I’m sure we’ve all read a hundred different reviews of Mitchell’s work, and the ToB is supposed to be something a little different. Thanks so much for commenting, and contributing to this discussion. 🙂

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  2. Interesting thoughts. I take all of the books I read seriously, but I’m probably harder on pretentious books (“literary fiction”). How critical I am also depends on price. A poorly written $3.99 book annoys me less than a poorly written $12.99 one.

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    1. Interesting thoughts… I never even thought about price. I will more easily abandon a book if it was cheap, versus at $25 hardcover. But I never thought about it in context with the way I would review it. I’ll have to think on that, and thanks so much for commenting!

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  3. I agree that all books deserve to be examined critically, regardless of genre. Like you said, just as there are some poorly written YA books, there is poorly written literary fiction… and just as there are incredible literary novels, there are incredible YA books. I wish the judge had looked more critically at Adam — especially since, from what I’ve read of the book in other places, there is A LOT to discuss.

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    1. Part of me wonders if they hesitated to discuss the book because of the topic, and rather chose to just blow over it due to some degree of uncomfortable-ness on their part. The comment by one of the judges/contributors about how Adam is a step towards “EVENTUAL acceptance” leads me to think they just didn’t want to discuss any of it at all, much less critically, but it’s hard to say for sure. But that’s not what anyone said. Everyone just kept saying they didn’t give it much thought because it was YA, and I think this book deserves A LOT of thought and discussion. Again, thank goodness for the comments section on Monday. That’s where the real discussion happened. Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion, and for commenting! 🙂

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      1. I wonder if it was not only them being uncomfortable, but maybe even somewhat ignorant of the topic? (I mean ignorant in the nicest definition, not as an insult). Because from everything I’ve heard about Adam, it’s not a step toward eventual acceptance. More like a step back from. (Maybe that perspective is dependent on one’s local community, though, at least partially) But goodness, if you’re going to insert a topic like that, your book needs to be examined critically!

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      2. I don’t think the book is controversial so much in it’s topic, but more in said PORTRAYAL of the topic. And I think more than just topic, but again it’s a genre thing that’s been bothering me this week… that not only a book with endless points for a riveting discussion (see comments section in ToB), which really isn’t that part of what the Tournament is about? It was simply cast off since it was believed to be YA. All judgment reserved for the “TRUE literature” in the match-up. As Amber so eloquently pointed out in this comments section, stuffy reviews of The Bone Clocks have already been done, and I was hoping for something and little different, and definitely more than what was delivered on Monday. Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion! 🙂

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      3. Ahhh I see what you mean. (Although for many people, the topic itself *is* automatically controversial, unfortunately; and they tend to ignore/shrug off/dismiss it because they don’t want to make the effort.)

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  4. One of the perks that I found when I studied English in college was that most of the professors were keen to discuss books across the whole spectrum with a critical eye. This includes “classics” (Shakespeare, etc.), comic books, books based on movies, true crime, contemporary, etc. That perspective has influenced the way I approach reading and literary discussion, especially when I talk to people who only read LITERATURE (i.e. snobs).

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    1. That’s how it should be. An author, whether they write YA, SFF, LITERATURE, graphic novels, and so on, has worked really hard, and deserves their work being viewed with a critical eye. That doesn’t mean one has to LIKE it, it just means one has to at least CONSIDER it worth discussing. I mean, if you were interested enough to pick it up and read it, then it’s worth thinking about and discussing as well. Book shaming is bad manners 🙂

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  5. 100% behind the idea that genre can be read with a critical eye. You’re tapping in to the big debate going on right now about whether or not Ishiguro’s latest is fantasy (he told the NYT it isn’t fantasy because it uses fantasy “surface elements” to tell a fable, Ursula K Le Guin got mad and wrote a rebuttal about snobbery against genre, and Ishiguro came back and said he isn’t opposed to genre and “sides with the ogres and the pixies” – it was intense!). This whole concept is what drove my readerly friends and I to start FictionUnbound.com – we’re all genre lovers but also in to critical reading and literary appreciation across the spectrum. It’s been so much fun to really dive into the meat of my favorite books (which are all sci-fi and fantasy, I have realized in recent years – thanks, Goodreads!).

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    1. Yes, I’ve been following that story as well! I also am an SFF lover, and feel like it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves from the masses, versus its cult following. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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