08 September 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Too Difficult?

Literary Blog Hop
I was happy to see the Literary Blog Hop this week over at The Blue Bookcase.  This is a meme for blogs with a focus on literary fiction.  If you think your blog might fit the category, head over there and check it out.  It is much fun.

This week's topic is thus:  Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that was not difficult?


I'm not entirely sure about the word difficult in the prompt this week.  Difficult in what sense?  That I had to reread to comprehend (Ulysses)?  That I needed to read with a dictionary by my side?  That the book tested my endurance (Moby Dick or Middlemarch or Lolita)?  That I needed a deep well of literary and/or historical and/or philosophical knowledge to understand the work (T.S. Eliot)?

Many literary works are "difficult" in all these, and probably many more, ways.  Some aren't.  However, I think to be "literary" a book must provoke thought, and there are many deceptively simple texts that, in fact, upon closer examination "contain multitudes" (thanks Walt).

There are two such texts that have played a predominant role in my development as a lover of the literary, and those are The Great Gatsby  and The Sun Also Rises.   I'll focus just on Gatsby, however, as my example here. [THERE ARE SPOILERS BTW, in case you have not delighted in THE Great American Novel].   When I read Gatsby, I drank the book in only a couple of sittings (I'm sure many have done it in one).  I languished in Fitzgerald's lush prose, and glittery descriptions of the Jazz Age.  I felt propelled by the story, the drama, and seduced (like Nick) by Jay Gatsby's charm and by the "good life" that they all are striving for.  This is the brilliance of the complexity that lies beneath the shiny facade.  Underneath is a story of false identity, of self-denial and the dark side of desire.  Gatsby is a fake, but Nick denies it.  The life is so shiny, the American dream, and the darkness so easy to ignore when you are a young buck like Nick.  It is easy for the reader to ignore all that along with him, to see past the sadness in the end, the unreachable green light, and instead be seduced by Nick's hope that one day he will reach it.  And that, my friends,  is deceptive simplicity.

So, although your reading of Gatsby might be different than mine, maybe we can agree that when something is literary- worth reading many years after it is written- it is not entirely simple.  Whatever difficult means, it must be some of that.

What do you all think?  What is the most deceptively simple book you've read?

7 comments:

  1. I agree that what makes a book difficult is entirely subjective. Also, some books get this bad reputation as being difficult, and it keeps so many people from enjoying them (or at least trying them out).

    I really need to reread Gatsby... I read it in about two days a few years ago and have now lost the finer points.

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  2. The most deceptively simple thing I have ever read is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. It was so much easier than I expected it to be, but when I sat down to read it I realised that there were so many layers of meaning I was totally unqualified to review it at all. Its the kind of story you breeze through and then at the end realise you probably need a year with an English Professor to really get to everything in it that you want to think about.

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  3. I love this response to the question! Especially how you distinguish various ways in which literature can be difficult in the first para to your answer.

    Right now I can't think of a piece of work that was 'deceptively simple' to me. I think most of the more popular classics are. Many read as mere romances, but beneath there's a solid study of human nature that never changes through the ages.

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  4. The best books, I think, are both very difficult and very simple. Tricky.

    I've been astonished to read children's picture books that are both difficult and simple. The stories of William Steig, for example.

    As for me, I talk way too much to ever be considered difficult. I'm as simple and silly as they come.

    My thoughts are here: I Never Met a Genre I Didn't Like.

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  5. Sadly, I haven't read the Great Gatsby yet but I have read other works by Fitzgerald and they seem just as 'deceptively simple'.

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  6. Having just reread Gatsby, I have to say that it is a great example of that deceptively simple complexity you were talking about. I love it when authors can somehow paint a world in a small handful of words.

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  7. In my short journey with classic literature so far, I haven't yet delved into stylistically difficult novels such as Ulysses (I'll get there eventually, I'm sure, but I admit to being a little intimidated). Like you, I don't think a novel has to be stylistically difficult in order to be literary. I mentioned this in my post as well. The example that I gave was Madame Bovary. Flaubert uses simple language but his ideas are by no means simple.

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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