Thursday, April 28, 2011

Swooning for the Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog HopI'm looking forward to the discussion that emerges from this week's Literary Blog Hop (brought to us by The Blue Bookcase--thanks Ingrid!)  Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature.  When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous?

One of the big reasons I gravitate towards literary fiction rather than general, popular fiction is because the sentimentality and emotion--when present--often feel much more genuine.  One thing that really bugs me in books is manipulation of emotions, (which is funny because in my late teens I absolutely loved Victoria Holt, Danielle Steel, and Mary Higgins Clark whose main purposes--if I remember correctly--were to do exactly that.)  If the emotion and sentimentality in a book does not feel like a genuine portrayal, an artistic expression so to speak, then it's pretty much guaranteed I won't like the book.  Perhaps I just had too much of it and just can't stomach it any longer?  Perhaps that phase in my life is over (the hormones have settled down and so have I?)

My least favorite books last year all had an element of the insincere or implausible, or in some way felt like it was more about the author than the characters...the emotions in them (whatever type of emotions they might be) felt superfluous: Gods in Alabama, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, The Alchemist, 13 Reasons Why.

My most favorite books last year managed to strike me as very genuinely felt, more concerned with expressing emotional feelings than instigating emotional reaction: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Star of the Sea, Speak, The Good Earth.

I don't mind emotion and sentimentality, but it seems rare to find a book that really pulls it off.  Without a personal connection, emotion and sentimentality have no lasting value...feelings are fleeting.  There are enough dramatics and emotional roller coasters in real life...inside a book is where I find the comfort of some intelligent conversation and humor, beautiful language and interesting observations.


  1. I just found your blog via the Blog Hop. I agree about your reason to read literary fiction over other more "popular" genres. I think emotion and sentimentality aren't always the same, which is what makes this question so interesting.

    Thanks! Miss Good on Paper

  2. Good to meet you! I'll pop over to your blog in a bit... You know, I started out writing about how I would define the two words very differently, but then decided to go a different direction. Sentimentality seems to be more superficial than emotion, and very easy to overdo.

  3. As usual, a lovely post. I agree with what you are saying. I do still like popular fiction and find myself reading about 50/50 of popular and literary. I do love the chatter that the popular creates. It's the extrovert in me.

  4. I agree entirely.
    And your post makes me wonder what so appeals to us in those teen book-loves that we look back on with a twinge of embarrassment... Could it be that at that time in our lives we truly do not know the range of possible emotional configurations, so we embrace books that will instruct us, yet later seem sentimental indeed?
    And what makes Speak speak to us adults, even when 13 Reasons Why strikes us as manipulative and thin, yet young people often offer them the same reception?

  5. Belle, what a perfect way to describe what popular fiction does for you! I love that reading is so individual--even the same book is different for different people (or even the same person at different times in their lives).

    Laurie, interesting thoughts! I have noticed that my 15 year-old has a difficult time thinking abstractly sometimes...I think that it isn't until our early 20s that our brains start to process things in a more layered, complex, abstract manner, and so these simpler, sentimental reads might seem just as real (or even more so) than something with more depth.

    As to the question about Speak/13 Reasons Why...that's something I've mulled over and pondered and haven't yet come up with a good answer for. It might be related to the above, the complexity, or perhaps quality of writing? I'm really not sure. ?

  6. I like the way you have dinstinguished between books written to intigate an emotional reaction and books that explore emotions. I hadn't ever really put into those terms in my own mind but it seems to really work for me. Now I am thinking back over those books like The Alchemist which you mentioned and seeing that books like that are attempting to make the reader feel a particular way, which is ok, but its an itneresting way to think of it. Anyhoo, enough of my ramblings. Cheers

  7. Hi Becky...I wonder if it goes back to quality of writing. An author could have an agenda but relate it in a layered enough manner that it doesn't feel forced on you. It may be the lack of subtlety that makes an emotion feel forced upon the reader. Thanks for your comment!

  8. I think it's not so much a manipulation of ones emotions,more the clumsy way it's often done. Tugging the heartstrings, done in a subtle way can enhance, done badly diminishes all.

  9. Sometimes I think that the book is about the emotion, which doesn't work for me. I think that definitely happens in popular fiction. Some people seem to like to be manipulated. I always have a problem with tidy endings, because I find them too emotionally satisfying and unreal.

    Check out my hop here.

  10. true, parrish...when the quality is there, then emotional manipulation just isn't as irritating, is it? I think you are right that it boils down to how well it's done.

    LBC, yeah, some books do feel like they're only about the emotion, and I just don't have the patience for it...makes the story seem much less realistic. Thanks for stopping by!


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