29 April 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Is Literature a Sentimental Journey?

Literary Blog Hop

This week's Literary Blog Hop, sponsored by The Blue Bookcase, asks us to discuss our thoughts on sentimentality in literature.  When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous?  Use examples.  

Good question.  And by good question, I mostly mean hard to answer. Ingrid's answer on The Blue Bookcase was really more of an essay, comparing (perhaps unfairly) Lady Chatterly's Lover and Twilight.  In my book, one of those is a work of literature and one is a piece of pulp fiction, and thus I have very different sets of expectations for them.  

I generally prefer books that make me feel and think, as opposed to just one or the other, and I do not think that a book has to be written for an adult audience to do both.  I also have to become emotionally engaged with at least one character to come away loving a book as opposed to just respecting it. And anytime an author is able to call upon my empathy and make me emotionally engage with a character who shares nothing in common with me, it's a good thing.  Part of the importance of literature is to be able to live somebody else's experience.  But when the emotions are out there on the surface, all the time, and make me feel like I am a teenager again--when every feeling, whether it is love or betrayal or jealousy or joy, is heightened to the  point of making me exhausted just reading it, it loses its effect.  Same thing when an author resorts to emotional manipulation of a reader. 

So what examples shall I use?  How about Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which is one of my favorite books of the last five years, Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee, which I recently reviewed here, and Catfish Alley by Lynne Bryant, which I recently reviewed here.  The Verghese book is a masterpiece, spanning decades and continents, world events and the particulars of one family, in a way that was heartbreaking, energizing, and inspiring by turn.  The main characters were of different cultural, political, educational, and religious backgrounds but not once did I consider myself as other, separate from them. With the Mukherjee book, however, with nearly identical differences (how's that for oxymoron?) separating me from the main character, there were few moments when I felt moved at all.  And yet with Bryant's book, with whose main character I share a similarity of class, gender, race, and even place, I didn't so much over-identify with the woman as feel like the story was emotionally manipulating me to get a response. 

I can see now why Ingrid felt moved to write an essay on this subject rather than just a quick blog post!  There's no way that I am going to take the time to finish a more complete defense of my position--not when I could be outside reading in the hammock--so I will just have to let it rest here.  


  1. I went for more of the essay type answer. Ingrid got me thinking.... it did take a long time for me to write my post though.

  2. My answer is that anything written is reliant on artifice to convince the reader of it’s veracity, it becomes more a case of how they deal with it, to make it work, like sleight of hand, when done well, all you see is the magic.

  3. Identification with a character is really important. I don't think that we have to be anything like the characters we identify with either. The writer just has to give them realistic emotional attributes, not forced ones.

    Check out my hop here.

  4. I ended up writing more than I originally planned, as well. The hammock sounds nice! Enjoy your weekend and thanks for sharing. You've introduced me to a few new books I can't wait to check out. -Miss GOP

  5. Ok, you make a good point - perhaps it is unfair to compare Meyer to Lawrence since they are in completely different leagues. I agree that emotion is essential to great literature but it needs to be authentic, not manipulative. Great thoughts!

  6. I'm afraid that I'm a short-answer person this week, too. Perhaps I am a short-answer person every week. Will I be expelled from this literary blog hop for terseness?

    Here is my response: Readerbuzz: The Queen Died and the King Died.

  7. It is surprising how little all those similarities can add up to. In the end, similarity is quite different than compatibility or emotional identification, I think. I enjoyed your post. :)


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