There are many factors that need to be considered when determining the value of popular contemporary literature, especially when determining its value when compared to that of classic literature. In regards to classic literature, there has been ample study, research, and writing done on nearly every classic novel, poem, or short story the average person has encountered. All of this work lends weight to the importance of these pieces, as well as their meanings. The process of determining literary value can almost be compared to that of a scientific theory. It is not necessarily proving the worth of a piece of literature, but disproving its worth.For example, you will not encounter a classroom teaching the writings of Stephanie Meyer. This is not because Meyer’s writing has no value it is because her writing has no literary value. A classroom will not benefit from learning about Stephanie Meyer’s writing style in the same way it does by studying the dark romantics, Ray Bradbury, or Sonia Sanchez. Literary importance is mostly determined by application to the academic world. If a piece of literature has no place in a classroom, be it high school or college, then it is generally viewed as a less valuable contribution to the literary world than books like Frankenstein, or The White Tiger.
Application, however, is not the only criteria standing in the way of popular contemporary literature matching up to the classic literature most of us have experienced during our educations. There is not much value placed on literature and writing in today’s education system. The focus is on mathematics and science, and when a child proclaims they wish to major in English, they are often met with the sigh and groan of a disappointed parent. In the time of the authors we consider great, literature and writing were two content areas of great importance. Books were widespread and frequently read, but in today’s world, we received our information fast and furiously in small bits as opposed to the full-length novella.As the importance of literature declines in our society, so does the effort to constantly improve and adapt the curriculums we teach and value. It is true that many authors’ works did not become famous or appreciated until long after their deaths, but that is due to a lack of ability to quickly spread their words. Today, we are able to distribute books, stories, and poems at the click of a mouse. So, why do we not see popular contemporary literature in the classroom as frequently as classic literature? There is no single answer to this, but many aspects.
You must consider all that I have already said, and then realistically take a look at the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This attitude is attributed to many fields, education and others, and is what keeps the mammoth novel, Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, plaguing high school students as opposed to more modern and applicable works like, Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa.
There are many other factors that affect our perception of popular contemporary literature’s value, such as appropriateness, censorship, and entertainment. We are shifting into an era where many do not want their children exposed to the harsh realities of life that are often highlighted in modern contemporary works, but would prefer to have them read the more classic works that followed a stricter guideline of appropriateness, before the time of sex on television and dismemberment in movies.
Also worth considering is the amount of literature that is now produced, which is dwarfs that of the more classical periods. Anyone and everyone with a computer and some money can self-publish their own novel, and this can make it difficult to really go looking for updated replacements of the classic literature we value so highly, however, as it has always been, there is well written literature, and there is poorly written literature.
To place the proper value on contemporary literature, we must look at it with all the respect and admiration that we show to classic literature, and then we may very well see an influx in the praise of contemporary literature.