Good or Good for You?: The Fiction of Enjoyment

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Course Number: 
ENGL 100 920
Instructor: 

JENSEN, MELISSA

Course Description: 

It’s an age-old debate: If a book is entertaining, is it not literary? One New Yorker stalwart distilled the difference between literature and genre fiction down to the quip, “one was good for you, one simply tasted good.” True?  According to tradition, Literary Fiction is culturally and ethically valuable, challenging, character and language driven, esoteric. Genre Fiction is plot driven, simplistic, formulaic, and more entertaining than valuable. Love stories, ghost stories, whodunnits, and children’s books, then, fall solidly into the latter, while tragedies, the ideological, and the non-linear narrative reside in the former. So, where does Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s complex, atmospheric work that also just happens to be arguably the first Sci-Fi novel ever written, fit into that equation? What about Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brothers Grimm and Sisters Bronte, E.B. White, Jennifer Egan? Stoppard and Gaiman. Stephen King? What about J.K. Rowling, whose easy-to-read kids’ book might have changed the world? In this course, we will examine what makes a work good, and what makes it Great. We will read across time and matter, from novel to picture book to play, acid-tongued review to Lit Theory treatise. We will take apart that list of what makes what: see what stands, what intersects, what breaks molds, and what never should have been stuck in a mold at all.

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