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The Academic vs. the Purely Edifying

twilight-book-coverI was having a conversation about (what else?) Twilight with a fellow English Major when we hit an interesting snag.  What were we looking for in the book in the first place?  I said that, while enjoyable, I really couldn’t respect Stephanie Myer’s work too much because I find the writing to be a bit graceless, and not particularly thematically interesting.  I found what my friend said to be very intriguing.  “I can separate between things that I would read for an English class and things that are—things that are purely edifying.”

So here’s the question, and one that I really don’t have an answer to.  Can anyone, you, me, an English Professor,  can separate and distinguish between an academic and a purely leisure text?  As I see it, you can only make that distinction when you have already made up your mind before you have begun to read something.  If I thought that Twilight was going to be the greatest literary masterpiece of all time, I would read it in a very different way than if I thought it was a fun, quick-read teen romance.  This isn’t quite judging a book by its cover, but rather by the things that friends, peers, and the media tell you about a book.  Which really just raises a whole load of questions about the books we read, how we read them, and why.  (If that makes you a little uncomfortable and unsettled, welcome to the club.)

If you have any responses to this, or any other post, please let me hear them.  Maybe you agree with the person I was talking with, and think that I’m completely wrong.  If so, I’m sure it would be interesting to hear from you.  Either comment here on the blog, or, if that feels too public, feel free to shoot me an email at jacobs11@goshen.edu and I can think on what you say, or publish it anonymously if you are alright with that.  The point is, I would love to hear some feedback and dissent.  Or assent.  That’s good too.

3 Responses to “The Academic vs. the Purely Edifying”

  1. Kim Says:

    To me, the Twilight Saga is purely for leisure and enjoyment. I like it because I think it is the ideal love story. I mean, sure it’s fake and has vampires but strip all of that away and look at just the relationship between Edward and Bella. I have never seen two people that are so totally self sacrificing. That is what love should be. That is why I like Twilight.
    And on the subject of certain books for pleasure and certain books for class-some food for thought: I read a series called Maximum Ride. I have always read it for pure pleasure and have never thought of it as anything different. And yet, it is read in classrooms and there is even a place on the books’ website for teachers to go for curriculum. I guess it depends on the person as to whether a book is for learning or for leisure.

  2. GC English » Blog Archive » Choosing Carefully Says:

    [...] was somehow shameful.  We are taught to not judge books by their covers, and as I alluded to in The Academic vs. the Purely Edifying, I at least feel that we often judge books differently by what we have already heard about them [...]

  3. Julie Says:

    This is a tough one for an English major to answer. Most of us prefer books that are in some way challenging, whether thematically, linguistically, or in some other way. Books’ designations also change over time. Shakespeare was the Stephen King of his day; now, after writing so much for so long, even Stephen King is (finally) getting the respect due his achievements. I would teach a Twilight book in a women’s studies class in a heartbeat– there is much we can learn from it. Does that make it less a leisure read for someone else? I don’t think so. What I find entertaining someone else finds “academic” or “boring.” A fun angle on this topic that I’d suggest is whether we “ruin” books by teaching them. Does examining your favorite episode of _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ change it from an object of delight into one of tedium? Or would you appreciate the entertainment more if you knew more about why and how it worked?

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