11 May 2009

Constructing a Literature of Ideas

I picked up a copy of Hot Press over the weekend purely to read the Patricia McKenna interview*. I haven't read Hot Press since I was in my earliest twenties, as I flicked through the pages I came to the conclusion that I am old, recognizing maybe one in ten of the bands interviewed, reviewed or namechecked. Oh well.

What pleasantly surprised me was an interesting little interview with Neil Gaiman by Tara Brady, which produced the following quote from Gaiman:
"Myself and Michael Chabon have had the peculiarly intercepting careers... My daughter had breakfast with both of us last year and she turned to me and whispered, 'Daddy, he's the American you'. Because Michael came from the mainstream, he was able to win the Pulitzer Prize and then turn around and say, now I get to do comics and science fiction and all the stuff I wanted to do in the first place. Conversely, that's where I come from but every now and then I get a little poke to let me know I've been accepted by the mainstream."
The interview is vaguely on the subject of Coraline, his children's story recently adapted into a 3D animated film, but is more about exploring why someone as versatile as Gaiman still struggles to be accepted outside of the realm of SciFi/Fantasy and comics. Brady touches on this barrier in her introduction, commenting on how difficult it is to find Gaiman's fiction in a bookshop as it is always relegated to the comics or SciFi special interest sections, and asks:
Why can't we just have a Literature of Ideas section with Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman sitting beside Orwell and Pynchon?"
As I've mentioned once or twice before the mainstream attitude towards the literary value of genre works, not to mention the ideas and concepts explored within them, is a particular bugbear of mine. On my bookshelf* Chabon's "Kavalier & Clay" sits happily beside Ursula Le Guin's 'Dispossessed' to the left, and Hamilton, Mason and Jay's "Federalist Papers" on the right, all balanced precariously atop Orwell's "Homage to Catelonia" and Goldman's "Living my Life", themselves in turn resting on Flann O'Brien's "At Swim Two Birds" and Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu". Shoulders of giants indeed.

When I eventually get off my backside and get round to opening the book & coffee shop that I have been boring all of my friends about for the last six years I think it will have an amazing Literature of Ideas section. Interesting and provoking ideas are to be cherished, regardless of their source.

Even if its Hot Press.

* Ouch! That's all I have to say about that. You want to know more, read it yourself.

** at this stage not even a shelf, for my books have long since overflowed onto the floor and colonized the wall of the adjoining room, threading their way nimbly through keyboards, synthesizers and very unhappy looking Moog to take defiant possession of an entire side of the office, daring all who gaze upon them to try and impose a sense of order on their categorical chaos.

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