Today’s bit of Sunday narcissism actually comes on a Thursday. This past weekend I went to my first (beer!) Dances of Vice event with my friend Jack Violet, dressing up in our 1920s/1930s Shanghai Foxtrot best. I jump upon any excuse to play dress up and dressing up as Asian Jazz Age? HELL YES.
Narcissism aside, I think what I really want to do is continue writing about literary fiction. Agent Kathleen Ortiz and I went out to dinner the other day to chat about business and books and somehow got onto the subject of literary fiction, what comprises it, and how to identify it. (We do this often.)
I’ve tried to explain about literary fiction before, but in the end, aside from being like porn, literary fiction can really be summed up with “I SEE WHUT U DID THAR”. Let’s take my favourite books of all time as an example. I consider HIS DARK MATERIALS extraordinarily literary and proof that literary and “fast-paced with a cracking good story” are not mutually exclusive.
HIS DARK MATERIALS: Rebelling against The Authority (God)! Lord Asriel!
JJ: Milton’s Paradise Lost! Asriel/Azrael! The Angel of Death! The “Devil”! I SEE WHUT U DID THAR.
HIS DARK MATERIALS: Sympathy for the devil! Heh heh.
JJ: “Milton was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it.” ZOMG William Blake! The Marriage of Heaven and Hell! I SEE WHUT U DID THAR.
HIS DARK MATERIALS: In order to read the alethiometer or cut between worlds with the subtle knife, one must accept the uncertainties and doubts to fully understand how to use it.
JJ: ZOMG NEGATIVE CAPABILITY. You just referenced Keats! I swoon. I SEE WHUT U DID THAR.
HIS DARK MATERIALS: It’s okay to lose innocence and gain experience; in fact, it is better.
JJ: Ho snap, C.S. Lewis, you just got SERVED. Also, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience! I SEE WHUT U DID THAR.
HIS DARK MATERIALS: When you die, every bit of you becomes part of everything else.
JJ: Did you just indirectly reference Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass AND Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Brahma”? I SEE WHUT U DID THAR. Transcendentalism for the win!
HIS DARK MATERIALS: …talking animals! Polar bears!
Now, I’m a sucker for Milton and Blake, as well as the other Romantics, so I’m highly sensitive to any allusion to them. (I took a colloquium on Milton when I was 19. My final project for that Milton class was to give a lecture on William Blake. I DID THIS VOLUNTARILY. THAT’S HOW MUCH I LOVE THEM.) I’m also an English major, meaning I had to take classes and attend lectures on the very allusions referenced in HIS DARK MATERIALS. Some of it’s bound to stick, right? But you don’t have to had studied English lit to enjoy the series. I was 11 years old when I first read THE GOLDEN COMPASS. I loved it then and I love it now, for the same reasons and then some.
When I say I like “literary” fiction, this is precisely the sort of literary I like. A book that compels me with the strength of its story, but also makes me go I SEE WHUT U DID THAR. Thoughts? Am I mad? Pretentious? Completely off the mark? Let me know!