Friday, April 24, 2009

The Great Debate

I stumbled across a comment today in which the authoress declared an aversion to Jane Austen and a love of Steinbeck. It reminded me of a hypothesis I have:

It is universally acknowledged that a person will love either American literature or English literature but never both.

I have termed it:

The Great Debate

For my senior year of high school, I could either take English AP literature or American AP literature. Given my love of all things Austen, it shouldn’t surprise you that I picked English lit. However, I also did not want to be seen deficient in my knowledge of Great Literature by college admissions. Therefore, I spent the summer before my senior year reading books from the American lit reading list. The books I recall reading:

Sister Carrie

Song of the Lark
Grapes of Wrath
Of Mice and Men
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court

The Great Gatsby (I just don’t get this book)
The Scarlet Letter
The Sun Also Rises
Uncle Tom’s Cabin

I also attempted to slog my way through Winesburg, Ohio and The Octopus but was completely undone. The fact that the summer ended without any suicide attempts on my part was a miracle. Seriously. Not that they were all intolerable. I enjoyed Ramona, Song of the Lark, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and ACYIKAC. But the tediousness of the remaining books sort of overpowered any sort of pleasure gained by them. What I achieved from this summer of self-study was a firm dislike in American literature, which on subsequent readings of other books has not lessened to any great extent.

The problem is, I don’t know from what this dislike stems. At first I chalked it up to the fact that the majority of American literature is incredibly depressing in a “I want to slit my wrists kind of way.” The general theme is: an idyllic character/location/surrounding is corrupted by the big city/industrial revolution/money/etc. However I have enjoyed other depressing books from other countries such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Anna Karenina. I was talking to Mr. F. about it today, and we both agreed that we would rather read Russian literature than American. So “an air of depression” was not the answer to my question.

In the end, I have to lamely state that English literature has a “readability” that American literature does not.

So dear readers I must ask you. Am I completely making this up? Have you noticed this debate before? Which literature do you most relate to and why?


Retail Worker #48721093 said...

Hmmm...I think it really depends, for me, on my mood and the story. I can site a number of examples of American literature that I love and loathe and the same can be said about world literature. I don't think I prefer one type over the just depends on if it catches my interest.

Completely off topic (sorta) but one of the local school districts was debating on whether to ban Brave New World from the school library. One of the people on the board making this decision made this quote to the local newspaper: "It should be banned because it just isn't written well." *jaw hits floor*

Retail Worker #48721093 said...

Gotta add something I didn't consider with my first comment: I prefer American drama over anything from the British/World category (Shakespeare doesn't count in this assessment simply because his works are in their own category). Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, etc...doesn't get much better than that.

Janssen said...

This is hilarious.

On the other hand, I can't decide which I like better.

Melanie said...

I'm here (via Janssen's shared items) to disprove your theory.

I always list East of Eden as my #1 favorite book, but anyone who talks to me for more than 10 minutes will find out that I'm a whole-hearted Jane Austen fan. Along with Steinbeck I love Wallace Stenger and Cormac McCarthy and the tied-to-the-earth aura in which they write. Wuthering Heights also ranks among my favorites (although I can't stomach Jane Eyre), and I find Dickens delightful.

I guess I'm an equal-opportunity lover of literature, which perhaps stems from having degrees in both Humanities and American Studies.

Washington Hills said...

I agree with the Wallace Stegner book...Crossing to Safety is my most favoritest book of all time!

heidikins said...

I took the English lit class and loved it (although we didn't read any Austen). I also absolutely love Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald (I think of his books as part fairy tale, actually) and other American "classics."

I also love the idea of Russian lit...but as of now I've only read Crime & Punishment and the first smidge of A.K. It's coming, I promise.


Lady Susan said...

Hmmmm. Well, it appears that my hypothesis is unfounded. At least among my readers, there appears to be an equal affection for both categories. Perhaps I just need to revisit some of my American authors. I haven't read Stegner nor McCarthy, so perhaps I will start there.


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