This morning I saw a snippet, posted online by a contact of mine, off a school anthology book. Now, school anthologies are often the first impact with literature for a lot of kids. They know fiction through movies, and comics, and cartoons, but especially these days, the written word, the textual storytelling, may come late in a kids life.
And this snippet made it clear that (i quote from memory)
one must distinguish between serious literature and the simple fiction whose only purpose is to amuse and entertain
… and from there it went on to explain to the out-of-luck kid that might chance to read this sort of crap, that basically…
- if you like it because it’s fun then it’s gotta be rubbish
- if it’s prop’r litch’r’chure you should not have fun reading it, and you’re not smart to get it anyway
This sort of nonsense makes me SO angry.
First, because there’s nothing “only” about amusement and entertainment. Come home after a hard day of work, and entertainment can be a life saver.
And secondly, because no anthology compiler has what it takes to tell the difference between literature and what else – because what makes a book “important” is not just the order in which the author decided to put his words, and what words they decided to use, but also the reader, their current state of affairs, their ups and downs, their contingencies… what does the sad anthology compiler know about all that?
They are just trying to make a buck out of their Modern Literature degree.
And then I got a birthday present (I got a few, in fact, but we’ll discuss them in another moment), and right there, in the first pages, in the Ray Bradbury foreword, there is the same objection – the pros and cons of literature versus fiction, of metaphors versus ideas.
And Bradbury has good reason to write what he writes, and claim the book we are about to read is high literature while being built out of ideas for the purpose of entertainment, because the book is Charles Beaumont’s Perchance to Dream, a fine collection of high-class, imaginative short stories published by Penguin, that goes to replace my old battered second hand Beaumont collection from the last century.
I guess anthology compilers will never see it, being too busy trying to put only prop’r litch’r’chure in their books: literature is not a fly trapped in amber, preserved for ages as a frozen shape, lifeless and still. Literature is motion fuelled by imagination.
And I can only hope those kids out there have good teachers, like the ones I was lucky enough to have, and do not end in the clutches of some fool that believes what the anthology compilers write.