Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books that stand the test of time

One of the things I commented on in a recent post on writing was that not all forms of writing have the same longevity. I suggested, "Web-based communication is less permanent (links quickly disappear, websites close down, Blogs 'mutate' into new untrackable forms etc)." Implicit in this comment was my view that some texts will endure due to their quality and significance. It seems that even in the not so weighty area of romance novels that people do tend to favour novels that have been read and loved for generations. Judgments are being made about the quality of language, plot, structure and significance.

A recent survey commissioned by UKTV Drama that reached 2,000 people found that the top 20 choices for a favourite romance novel were all major works of English literature. The top 10 were:

1 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte, 1847
2 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen, 1813
3 Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare, 1597
4 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte, 1847
5 Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell, 1936
6 The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje, 1992
7 Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier, 1938
8 Doctor Zhivago - Boris Pasternak, 1957
9 Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence, 1928
10 Far from The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy, 1874

Nevertheless, 175 million Mills and Boon romantic novels are sold each year and more than 800 new titles are released each month. However, while these books might meet a short term market, the key question is, will they have the same longevity as many of the novels that made the top 10 in the UK survey.

While I'm not keen to see schools simply return to teaching a limited canon of literature, I'm concerned that there has been a tendency to view all books as of equal value. I don 't believe that all books are equal, some books stand the test of time because of their quality. While all published books probably have something to commend them, it is foolish not to make judgements about books based on the quality of the language used, the richness of plot, the depth of characterisation and so on.

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