Literary Blog Hop : Analyzing Literature

The Literary Blog Hop is a monthly meme hosted by the gals at The Blue Bookcase.

This month’s question:

To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you’re going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience? 

I like this question but I’m not completely certain how to answer it.  Earlier this year I read an introduction to literary theory that gobsmacked my ideas about what I do and how I approach literature.  I was previously unaware that there were so many different facets of literary analysis – so many isms – structuralism, deconstructionism, new historicism, formalism, feminism.  How little I knew was suddenly reaffirmed.

I don’t know that I’m ready to take on literature in those realms and I’m okay with that.  I’m a work in progress.  Each step of my literary journey broadens the scope of my understanding.   Since the birth of my classics exploration in late 2009, I’ve tried to reach beyond the plot to uncover themes, authorial intent, and to put what I’m reading into some kind of historical context.  Each new author propels my thinking one step further.   Each new work teaches me something that I didn’t know before. Hardy is teaching me to pay attention to setting.  Flaubert reminds me to consider narrative perspective.  Through Nabokov, I’ve become more sensitive to style and figurative language.

I think of each novel that I read as a piece in a larger literary puzzle.  What I learn from one work enlightens the next and with each I push the boundaries of my understanding.  My hope is that it has a cumulative effect.   As I get further along in my literary journey I  can reach deeper and deeper into what I’m reading.  I can fit more pieces together.  Connections are made more easily.

I’ve recently become drawn to the idea of honing in on individual authors.  After reading Thomas Hardy’s major novels and a biography followed by a collection of his poetry, I relish in being able to pick up on his subtleties.     I love that I know little tidbits of his life and his personality, which also serves to strengthen my grasp of his work.      I believe there’s value in that.         I aim to become just as intimate with other authors.

Whether or not I’m going to write about a novel makes no difference in my approach to it.  I read everything with the objective of broadening my understanding of life and literature.  I always intend to write about about a book even if that doesn’t always get accomplished.  I don’t read “for entertainment” but reading entertains me.  In my experience,  thinking deeply about a text is entertaining.  If there’s nothing to grapple with, that’s when I get bored.

I see what I’m doing now as more of a survey of literature rather than an analysis of it.  At least for me, this seems like a necessary step before advancing to a deeper, narrower focus – before treading into all of the literary isms.

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Click the button at the top of this post to see what other LBH participants think about literary analysis.

Literary Blog Hop : Does Literary = Difficult?

The Literary Blog Hop is a monthly meme hosted by the gals at   The Blue Bookcase.  Hop on over there to check out the other responses to this month’s question:

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Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that aren’t difficult? 

This is a very subjective question, of course, since the term “literary” seems to be up for debate.  As I’m still in the early stages of my own literary adventure, my criteria are a bit pliant.

For what they’re worth – my thoughts on literary merit :  I believe that a book’s literary merit is manifest in its aesthetic value – as determined by the novel’s style and thematic depth.  A classic is a classic, in part, because it contains (at least) these elements with one more added – withstanding the test of time.  So I think a novel that is literary is one that has the potential of becoming a classic once it passes the final test – time.

In my (admittedly short) exploration of literature, I’ve noticed that one thing the classics tend to have in common is that their themes are often understated and nuanced, therefore open to interpretation and discussion.  This is where non-literary novels, in my opinion, fall short.  Rather than understated, certain novels seem to be slapping you in the face with their point, like the author is hiding behind the book jacket, yelling, did you get it?! . . . have you gotten it yet? . . . no? let me spell it out for you.  Such books are often plot-driven; thoughts and motivations tend to be flatly stated; essentially nothing is left to the imagination.  At the end, there isn’t much to discuss.  You’ve read it, you know what happens, no need to read it again.  So that would be my next defining characteristic : A literary novel is more likely to withstand rereading.  And hold up to discussion and debate.

To me, all of that doesn’t make for a “difficult” reading experience, effortful perhaps, but not difficult (which sparks thoughts on motivations for reading – but that’s another post).  I didn’t used to be so sensitive about this until I started reading the classics and experienced the reward of delving into a novel and having to do a little work to get at its essence.   There was no going back.  I could never again take the same pleasure in melodrama for the sake of melodrama.  I need substance.  And I need to have to do a little work to get to it.  So in that sense, I think yes, a literary work should be difficult, in that it provokes thought and demands reflection.  It shouldn’t be so easy to immediately place back on the shelf, with the feeling that you understand everything it has to offer.  A literary novel is not thematically vacuous.  Not everyone may agree with me here, but (ahem)  I think I already pointed out that it was  a subjective question, right?

Do I think this means you should have to be armed with a dictionary and quick access to Wikipedia in order to understand, enjoy, and appreciate a literary novel?  Heck no.

book imageA good example is a book that I recently finished, Madame Bovary. (Incidentally, I have been thinking about this very question since I finished it.)  It is deceptively simple.  Every page and subsequent chapter glides by with ease.  The actual experience of reading Madame Bovary is not a difficult one.  But thematically vacant it is not.  Flaubert uses simple language to convey complex ideas about human nature and society.  His style is simple, but smart.  (For proof, see my post Madame Bovary Part 3 : Narrative Style)   He was a believer in “le mot juste” or “the right word.”  And he devoted five years (five years people!) of his life to finding just the right words for Madame Bovary.  

P.S. Melody over at Fingers and Prose offers some other good examples of books that are both easy to read and literary.

Short answer :  (I know what you’re thinking, after all that there was a short answer!)I don’t think a novel has to be stylistically difficult in order to be literary, but its style should be intelligent and purposeful.  I also don’t think a novel has to be difficult as in difficult to comprehend but it should offer up ideas as a reward for reflection.

Shorter answer : What do I know, I’m just a casual reader?


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Cheers!  Have a good weekend everyone.