Wednesday, November 25, 2015


So, yesterday I learned a new word for an all-too-familiar phenomenon: 'Goldfinching'. As in, the pattern that happens again and again when a book gets too popular -- like, say, THE LORD OF THE RINGS about the time of the millennium polls -- and the critics come out and start bashing both the book and, more importantly, the people who read it. Weiner, the author of this particular piece, is writing specifically about fiction largely by women and largely enjoyed by women, but the behavior she sees is part of a larger pattern, perfectly familiar to those of us who championed Tolkien back in the day (or, for that matter, admired Pratchett's work before he got the knighthood, and Gaiman's before he got the Newbery).

It's an odd and regrettable fact that some people (some critics and reviewers, others academicians) believe deep, deep down that if people enjoy a work, and read it without being made to, then it can't really be literature. A good example would be Frost, who's not taught in universities the way Eliot and Pound are,* because you can read and enjoy and understand Frost without having him explained to you.**

Which is a pity, because it casts everything into mutually exclusive categories, so that those of us who admire Pound AND Larkin, Woolf AND Tolkien get it from both sides. And people who stick to one side or the other miss out on a lot of good stuff.

Luckily, the solution is easy: just sit down and read, ignoring the naysayers. There are works whose appeal is immediate and enduring, and others which take work to appreciate but reward those who put in the time and effort. Give anything that sounds interesting a try, and enjoy the results.

--John R.

Here's the link:

*at least this was the case when I was in grad school; perhaps things have changed, but I rather doubt it.

**extra points if you can name the Four Great Twentieth Century American Poets.  If you can, odds are good that you have a Masters or Ph.D in literature.

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