05 November 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Does Lit Crit Sucketh the Joy?

Literary Blog Hop 
It's been a while since I have participated in any blog hops or other weekly memes.  Last week I was floundering around in the cold and dark, in a house without ekeltricity, as Mr. Weasley might say. And the last few hops that I saw before the transformer blew weren't book related at all (really?  what's my favorite candy?).  But now I'm back and happy to participate with the good folks at The Blue Bookcase, whose literary blog hop is now monthly instead of bi-weekly, and this time they ask:
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 wish that I had more sophisticated answers this week, but I'm afraid my response will make everybody think I'm a poseur who doesn't deserve to participate in the literary blog hop.  But the short answer is no, not really.

Of course, I'm a Southerner so I can't really let the short answer stand on its own.  Like many book bloggers, I was an English major in college and I went on to study literature for my master's degree, too.  There was a time I knew the ins and outs of the various schools of literary criticism.  I never learned to appreciate postmodern and deconstructionist thought, though I suppose I probably still read with mild undercurrents of feminist and reader response and cultural criticism unconsciously informing my opinions.  

But for the most part now I read for pleasure even if it's something I'm also reading for work and I do not read with a particularly analytical eye. Since I earn my living (at least for now) as a bookseller, it's usually impossible to put most of the books I read into discrete categories like "work" and "pleasure" reading.  Unlike most book bloggers, though, I often read with other people's tastes in mind--just because a book isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean it wouldn't be perfect for certain customers of mine.

I'm not a more analytical reader if I know I'm going to review a book because often I don't know whether I will review a book until after I've finished it--according to GoodReads I've read 132 books this year but I've probably written fewer than fifty reviews on my blog. Sometimes I don't want to waste more time on a book that I had little reaction to, but sometimes it's just because I want to blog about other things, like my travels, my bookstore, author events, and other nifty things happening in the book industry. 

I sometimes regret this loss.  Right out of college and grad school I was happy to tackle difficult topics and I was never put off by books I had to work hard to understand and appreciate.  Now, though, I sense that I have become intellectually lazy, or at least intellectually unengaged.  I still have friends in academia and I notice that we talk about books very differently these days.  On the other hand, academia made its reputation as an ivory tower the old-fashioned way--it earned it--and I am not entirely sorry (or even very sorry) that I am no longer strictly surrounded by the life of the mind.


  1. I completely agree that the whole scholarly literary criticism thing is just an AWFUL way to read a book (and I was never really much good at it) but I sort of informally analyse books because I can't help it! Sometimes I don't even do a tiny bit of analysis, and that's when I know a book has really swept me away (most recently happened with The Marriage Plot, and now I don't know how to review it!) So, yeah. Agree!

  2. As I wrote on my own blogpost for the Hop, I too was rather deranged by my academic studies on texts, it was like dissecting them losing the vision of them as "a whole". That was not a complete waste of time, anyway. I learnt much but now I teach literature my own way. I think it was (it is) written to entertain readers, it was (it is) written to express feelings and emotions which are universally experienced so why do we have to analyze that as if we were working in a scientific lab? We have to read and look for ourselves in those words. The ourselves we know and those we have yet to discover.

  3. I know what you mean about being "intellectually unengaged" once you're no longer in the classroom setting. I wish my analytical reading was more like it was when I was in school but I still try to make an attempt at it in my current reading. Except the deconstructionist stuff, which makes my brain hurt.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)