Rant: Elitism in Literature


It's been awhile since I ranted a bit. I don't like to do it because rants generally tend towards strong opinions and strong opinions are almost always met with opposing equally strong opinions. But alas, I feel the need to say this.

I am really tired of elitists saying good writers are terrible just because they aren't brilliant.

Let me explain.

There are bad writers out there, really bad. There are also mediocre writers...who have good ideas for stories and characters but lack the skills to put those ideas into something more than mediocre. And if a writer is bad, fine, call it how it is.

However, there are a number of good writers out there who get a lot of undeserved flack. They are usually popular writers who aren't being innovative enough to put out work that sets itself apart from the pack (by its recognizable unique qualities). The writing can't be referred to as "utterly brilliant." You're not going to see their books read in a classroom (but they may hit the best seller's shelf on a regular basis).

When you say "he's a terrible writer" what you really mean is he's not good enough to win a Pulitzer, that the writing isn't beautiful enough to catch your fancy or be recognized among the elite minds of Literature. But the fact of the matter is, he is a fine writer. Probably wouldn't be as popular if he wasn't. Grammatically intact, good character development, lovely descriptions even if they aren't life changing, in the true sense of the description---he is a good writer. Not terrible, not great, just regular ol' good.

Now, I have to admit that in a lot of areas (movies and music in particular) I'm pretty elitest myself. I do think that the best should be recognized, win the awards, be studied. And it does annoy me when most people are fixated on terrible works...valuing entertainment and shock value over good art. But so long as the best are being recognized as the best, what's the harm in guilty pleasures or even I-don't-feel-guilty-at-all pleasures? There are books that I love that are generally considered incredible. But there are also series that I like just because they are entertaining and fun, not because they're recognized. The books are still well written even if the stories tend towards generic or audience pleasing.

I guess I just feel that sometimes authors who are well educated, decent writers are getting unfairly branded as "bad writers" when they are actually quite good at writing as a craft. I think it's possible to be fair about writing skill and if we are fair, the range should be much more broad than just the choices of "awful" or "amazing."

There is value in popular literature (getting non-readers to read for instance) and at the end of the day art is meant to be enjoyed. So if you enjoy a writer, who CARES if he won a Pulitzer...art is meant to be enjoyed and interacted with.


  1. Yeah I was definitely an elitist for awhile. It happens when you're an English major. I have discovered in the last year how many books I love that I never would have touched a couple years ago. Books are wonderful!

  2. Same. As soon as I graduated and could read whatever I wanted and not what was assigned, I discovered reading for pleasure and my interests got a lot broader.