There, I said it.

8 Jun

Traditionally, studying English Literature makes you a book snob. Students read The Seminal Texts, and, by the time they get to honours lectures, are quoting Woolf/Rushdie/Calvino/Delillo willy-nilly. It’s very intellectual. It’s very learned. It reminds me, in fact, of a scene from Proust’s Swann in Love…


I do love complex, beautiful, challenging writing that makes language flex its pecks and tense its buns – girlish swoon. But English Lit, more than most subjects (save perhaps philosophy- my second major), can be hit with the Ivory Tower critique; scholars teetering atop a pile of tomes each more post-modernly post-colonial, more allegorically magically-real than the last. Surrounded in a web of syllables, metaphors and ‘isms’, scholars talk only to those who can decipher the meaning of signs, which, as they all know, are by their very nature entirely detached from reality and have no real, independent ‘meaning’ etcetera etcetera etcetera.

So, much to the horror of many a class-mate, I made a conscious effort to temper my ‘haute couture’ reading. I’d listen to someone wax lyrical about Coetzee, and, after a thoughtful pause, pitch a counter-argument citing Jilly Cooper. And yes, I mean the same Jilly Cooper whose jacket-covers proudly exclaim ‘sex and horses- who could ask for more?’ Cue the smirks and squirming – you didn’t just quote a best seller did you?

Why not? Why can only a certain rank of book be appropriate for analysis? Surely explaining deconstruction in relation to Cooper is actually harder than in relation to Coetzee; and I would deconstruct that roguish cad Rupert Campbell-Black any day…Jilly would pun on hard too, but this blog is PG13.

It’s been years since those honours days, and I still like to keep my scales in balance. I read The Road last week- it was amazingly terrifying; a total page-turner. And then I read a Sweet Valley High novel; also ‘unputdownable,’ in its own way. And I know people think it’s a disgrace, think that trash is a waste of space, and my energies could be better spent. But why? Does reading trash mean I can’t handle “real literature”? Does it reduce my brain power? Or does it just ruin my intellectual image? I think the fact that an edition of Harry Potter with more ‘adult’ looking covers was published answers that one pretty clearly.

So, to those of you who think judging a book by its cover based on the absence/presence of a Pulizter/Booker Prize shout out, stop being so damned classest. I think Jilly Cooper’s “Class” could give you some insights into the phenomenon…


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