I ran across this comment today:
Good writing never goes out of fashion, as high school English teachers love to remind us, but certain types of fiction do fall in and out of vogue. How else to explain why nobody reads John Dos Passos anymore, or why the term "magic realism" has become little more than a slur?
What do you think about this?
Good writing never goes out of fashion is a commentwith which I must agree. However, what constitutes as "good reading" is what differs in my opinion. I think this is because most readers want to read texts in which their is a connection. And often, readers don't want to have to work extra hard to find that connection. So, unfortunately the works of Dickens, or James (as mentioned in previous posts), are not the "picks" of the day. Relevancy is certainly key.
Moving beyond the difference between "good" and "popular" which I am sure, sadly, we can all relate to, I do think that it is interesting how some texts seem to go out of fashion as it were, and then come back in again, like items of clothing. Sadly others just go out of fashion and don't re-enter the curriculum again. I studied Henry James in my final two years of schooling but he doesn't seem to get much of a look in nowadays - is this perhaps because we are "dumbing down" the books we are teaching to our students?
I agree with #4 - a distinction between what is good and what is popular must be made. I've stumbled upon many classics that people don't read anymore that are amazing. There is just not enough time in the classroom (or in life) to read everything that would fall into the 'good' category. I try to make it a point to teach my students the distinction between the two categories. We have many discussions about what makes literature last, what makes it quality, etc. I think it's a mature thought process for them to be able to say, "I didn't like this book, movie, etc, but it was well written." I want them to reach that level of mature thinking.
Well, I don't think it's true that nobody reads Dos Passos. For anyone interested in early 20th century texts, he is indispensible. Dos Passos may not be the easiest read, but his USA trilogy was one of the first modernist stream-of-consiousness works, a true original, to which Modernism is indebted. And magical realism certainly is enjoying a surge. I think Marquez would find the high school teacher's dismissal offensive as would Paulo Coehlo, Laura Esquivel, and others.
There needs to be a distiction between "popular" writing and "good" writing. The canon is always in flux. People, with good reason, always sound Shakespeare when revering classics. But voices that have been surpressed or denied are being discovered all the time and challenge our notions of what is worthy. True, political discourses may not be as relevant, but we don't stop teaching Twain or Swift because the allusions are lost on us. Nor do we stop teaching difficult literature (Ulysses, Tristram Shandy) because it is "too hard."
For a very good collection of essays on this topic, I encourage you to read: Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature. It will change the way you think about revelancy, classics, and the canon.
I agree with Amy, when it's fantastically done, it stands the test of time, when it's good and enjoyable and relevant only to current times it tends to fade away after a while. Great writers, the memorable ones like Shakespeare, wrote stories and plays and poems that are applicable across the ages and hopefully they remain that way.
I think there's a lot of truth to this. Good writing is always good writing...hence the classics. Shakespeare is good writing, and still read and performed as much today as in his own time. However, authors like Danielle Steele will not always be popular--they entertain the masses for a time, but they do not stand the test of time.