Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Ideas.

Let me start by saying that my proposal is impossible.

I don't think that there is any such thing as one definition of "good" literature. In my mind, all literature is good to a certain degree. Good for what, though? That's the question. Is it good for young people to read the same, tired stories with only the slightest changes to the characters' names and physical appearance? Is it good for them to read books that clearly lack a bigger vision and say nothing about society or humanity? On the other hand, is it good for them to read overtly didactic pieces, stories clearly written with an agenda? Is it good for them to read about sex or violence or the ugliness in the world? Or is it good for them to avoid all of those things, instead existing in a safe, pretend medium?

The answer to all of those questions is yes...and then no. What is "good" depends on the individual, the culture, the maturity level, and the ability to comprehend literary works, among a host of other things. What is "good" depends on taste and experience, on the sense of adventure or the need for the familiar within the reader. None of these aspects can be defined by anyone other than the reader him/herself, and that is why my proposal is impossible: I'm trying to nail down the incredibly slippery definition of an instrically subjective matter.

I don't claim expertise on anything, however I do claim years and years of reading experience. After the countless books that I have read, I have to stop and ask -- what makes some of them so wonderful and others so forgetable? What qualities in a book can make a heart pound or stop altogether and what qualities leave a reader unsatisfied and wanting more? Why do some books take my breath away, make me stop and stare at the words in wonder at their implications, whereas others are gone from my mind before I even finish them? That is the goal of this project; I want to create a list of criteria that, in my mind, work together and point towards something great, something beautiful, something important. I want to better understand myself and what I read, and to decipher what specifically I find successful in young adult books.

This too is yet another impossible task, so I have narrowed down the search fields a little. In order to better analyze what I read and to make sure I'm using the same lenses to look at different books, I have chosen three specific fields of interest. I realize that each of these topics could yield an entire dissertation in their own right, but I'm just using them as tools with which to better gauge the novels that I read. In large, sweeping strokes then, I want to examine:

1.) The style and sophistication of the writing. Is it beautiful or strictly utilitarian? Is there any semblance of poetry or drama in the words themselves or do they simply function? Are the sentences plain, repetitive units or do they flow across the page and off the tongue? How sophisticated is the word choice, the structure, the diction? I want to examine how the words work and how they make a reader think. I'm interested to see if the words themselves play a role in the story or if they are like an unseen narrator, simply telling the story without making themselves seen.

2.) The strength and believability of the characters. Do they make sense? Are their motives clear and appropriate to the story? Is the range of emotion clearly displayed and accurately represented? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do they stick in your mind? Do you care? I'm looking at how strongly I react to characters and how their stories move me as a reader. I want to be compelled to understand them and to figure out why they do what they do in the novel.

3.) The statements about society. What does the author say about the human race? What is important in the world of the book? What is worth fighting for and what is worth fighting against? How should people act? What should society look like? These huge questions are just springboards for a general understanding of what the text stresses as important and noteworthy. I want to see how these implications of what the world is/what the world should be effect the story and the characters, as well as how a reader responds.

Again, this topic is entirely subjective and I know that. I don't know if an authority figure can exist when it comes to YA literature, but I do know that I cannot fill that role at this point. I simply want to understand, and isn't that why we read in the first place? To understand our world and our place in it? That is what I want to accomplish and if at the end of this thesis, I have more information on how to read books, than I think I will have succeeded in my task.