Where bad literature makes good reading - A professor and students in an English course at Juniata College discuss what makes a book ‘crap’ By Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 27, 2016 12:00 AM
Professor Peter Goldstein teaches a course called Bad Literature at Juniata College. In it, his students read some of the poorer examples of published prose in hopes of answering the question: “What do we mean when we say a work is ‘crap?’”
Make no mistake, the introductory course debuting this semester has a goal beyond bashing the predictable plot of Danielle Steel’s “Matters of the Heart” or the two-dimensional characters in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.” By examining literature that is flawed, the 21 students in the course are encouraged to think critically about what’s involved in writing, both good and bad.
“What do we mean when we say literature is ‘crap’?’’ asks Mr. Goldstein, 60. “Is it just individual opinion, or are there objective standards that characterize literature that is good and literature that is not?”
The class also examines why the public devours works not held up as literary masterpieces the way a kid snarfs down junk food. For example, Ms. Meyer’s “Twilight” received mixed book reviews but was a New York Times bestseller that spawned wildly successful movies.
“It was part of the teen vampire craze,” said Mr. Goldstein. “It is in some ways ground zero for the consideration of bad literature — a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire — a story that was unbelievably, ridiculously popular.”
Say what you will about Ms. Steel’s writing style and character development, but the public devours her books too. With more than 800 million copies sold, she is the best-selling author alive and the fourth-bestselling author of all time.
In general, said Mr. Goldstein, page-turning, light reading that does not challenge the reader goes down easier than heavy literature. “Crap is going to sell better than non-crap,” he said.
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