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Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Guardian, The Literary Canon and Literature Snobbery.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me go on a bit of a rant this week. That rant involves something I’m very passionate about: reading. I saw this tweet and the related Guardian article ticked me off, so I decided to all what I always do…take to the internet to complain to no-one in particular.

The article in question was regarding female-led book clubs – mentioning the likes of Florence Welch & Emma Watson. It also mentioned super famous vlogger Zoella. Now this is where the article becomes infuriating. When Froggatt mentions Zoella’s book club, she does so with an undermining tone, suggesting that because the books mainly contain ‘cute, glittery’ fiction, it is somehow less worthy of respect than the other book clubs. I have two issues here. The first being that YA fiction is somehow less deserving of literary respect, and the second being that all YA fiction is ‘cute’ and ‘glittery.’ Froggatt shoots herself in the foot by including example books read in said book club –including books such as ‘We Were Liars’ which is definitely YA, but certainly not cute or glittery. Incidentally, the flippant tone used to undermine was so rude that the article has since by edited, with a note: ‘This story was amended on 16 November to specify that the books chosen by Zoella book club are more varied than initially implied’.

The problem here isn’t just Froggatt’s article. It lends itself to a bigger problem that has been plaguing the literary world for years. When it comes to reading and books, there are a lot of snobs around. It is infuriating and unavoidable. Right now, YA fiction seems to be bearing the brunt of the snobbery. Instead of applauding writers for encouraging reluctant readers to get into a book and become more immersed in literature, people instead decide to mock those who read it and act as if it is somehow less than other books they could choose to read. Let’s not forget, YA fiction is a genre, not an age band. It’s currently de rigueur to mock it – just as it was ‘chick-lit’ beforehand. Can you see the pattern? Yes, it seems to be ‘female-led’ literature that is mostly mocked. Well isn’t that a surprise. As with all media, female led pieces tend to be marketed as fluffy and cute unless it involves very obvious tropes leaning away from that, which is lazy and small minded, yes, but just the way patriarchal society shapes things.

Which leads me to my next issue. Part of the reason YA fiction is mocked so much is because we have become accustomed to believing that only a certain type of literature is worthy of praise and attention. The Literary Canon is an archaic device that is full of ‘great’ works of literature by mainly old, white, rich men. Nearly all the books on it are AT LEAST 100 years old and are quite often very boring. The whole notion of the Canon subscribes to the belief that there was, once upon a time, a Golden Age of Literature that we should aspire to and remember fondly, because books nowadays just aren’t like they used to be!! This, of course, is crap. Hundreds of years ago, when only the rich could read and write, it was expected that the only things to read would be relevant to those who were reading them, but nowadays that just isn’t the case, and as such we should celebrate the wide range of diverse literature the English language has to offer instead of romanticising the literature of old.

Now that’s not to say that everything the Canon holds is crap – I for one for love Shakespeare. But let’s not pretend you’re a more literary person for reading canonical books. There are thousands of lists out there claiming that ‘you have to read these 100 books before you die!!’ and they contain so many books that I just can’t get on with. The Canon is full of these dry books that no-one reads anymore, and then feel bad about not enjoying. For instance, I know SO many people love Jane Austen, but I can’t get on with her books; I’ve tried multiple times but I do not enjoy them. I felt like a bad reader for ages because people make out that she is this great literary author that we all must read and enjoy when in actual fact, it’s okay not to enjoy Austen and authors like her. We should be encouraging readers to read regardless of the literary merit of the book, not mocking those who read books which aren’t seen as literary enough for general consumption. It would appear that people are reading less than they used to, so surely getting people to read at all is a fantastic thing to do? A lot of people can’t identify with the Canon and that isn’t a bad thing – it’s pretty outdated and focuses on quite a narrow viewpoint for the majority, we shouldn’t be forced to read these books in order to feel good about our literary habits.


Reading is a fantastic thing to do and should be encouraged whenever possible – regardless of the material being read. Do you only like light-hearted female led fiction? GREAT. Only like historical fiction written in the 19th century? GREAT. It doesn’t matter. You are no better or worse a reader for your literary habits, and the sooner we stop judging people for this, the better.

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