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Latest Topics

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How Will the Current Culture Affect Classic Novels?

Most of us grew up with some form of the classic novel. Whether we read abridged, illustrated versions for kids, encountered them in school, or watched TV or movie versions (e.g., Wishbone, Disney adaptations), most of us know at least some of the traditional "classics" of the Western canon. These include but are not limited to works by Dickens, Steinbeck, Morrison, Lee, Shakespeare, Austen, and Wells.

As our culture becomes more aware of concepts like marginalized experience and cultural appropriation though, our relationships with classic literature may change. We now critique certain examples of classics because of what they imply about non-Western, non-white cultures, or what they leave out. We critique them based on the roles women do or don’t play, or how characters of color are treated, or whether characters coded LGBT are sympathetic. As a disabled woman, I find myself being harsher with books like Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple because of how they treat members of my groups.

How does this heightened critique and awareness mean we should treat the classics? That is, can we still learn valuable things from these books even if they are cringe-worthy in their rhetoric or character portrayals? How can we engage with these books, without spending all our time on the problematic parts? Some of these classics have been retold because of heightened critique; was this a good or bad idea? And, are these critiques even valid, or should we simply say, "This was written in another time and we should simply accept that?" Discuss.

  • The critiques are valid, in my opinion. It is important to understand the contexts these stories were written in as they allow us to realize how much things have changed and, more importantly, what has not changed. To simply admit that these novels were written in a different time suggests that the problems that existed back then are solved now. We know that this is not the case, that people are still marginalized and cultures are still being appropriated. Learning about these issues when they were more apparent allow us to understand the injustices that are still ongoing today. – Kennedy 2 years ago
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  • While thoughtful critique of problematic elements in classic literature can further productive discussion and help us understand how certain harmful attitudes became normalized, we must be careful not to judge historical works too harshly by today's standards. Rather than canceling classics entirely, it may be better to teach and analyze them with appropriate context, acknowledging flaws while still appreciating positives. Some reimagined versions aim to be more inclusive, but lose the original voice. Classics remain relevant when transcending their time and place to speak to universal human truths. No work is perfect, and reasonable people can disagree on how to handle insensitive content. Open discourse allows growth, while knee-jerk condemnation often does not. If we discard all works containing outdated views, we lose touch with our past and ability to learn from it. A balanced approach, neither banning classics nor accepting dated views uncritically, may be best as we determine how to engage thoughtfully with these works in today's climate. – Nyxion 6 months ago
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"Love Triangles: Why?"

The convoluted strife created by a love triangle has become incredibly commonplace in many narratives (particularly YA ones). Why do we find this so interesting? Is it the unnecessary drama, the concept of hearts going awry? Where does sexuality fit into this, and what do we do with polyamory’s growing acceptance in this context?

  • The love triangle has been around since the beginning of time! They are quick and easy drama. – SportsEntertainmentWriter 8 years ago
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  • Love triangles create dramatic intense scenes. Readers are always keen to figure out who picks who. – semelejansen 8 years ago
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  • Something interesting is people's focus in fandoms on the male-male relationship of two guys fighting for the heart of one girl. The triangle is warped in this way because in some cases the fans are arguing that the bond between the men in competition with one another, that rivalry, is more emotionally charged and attracting that their individual connections with the one being fought over. – Slaidey 8 years ago
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The Rising Popularity of 'Low Stakes' Fantasy

Not all fantasy fiction involves epic quests and world ending conflicts. Some focus on an orc opening a coffee shop or a woman moving to a cozy town and befriending a witch. According to the scifi/fantasy publisher Tor, this subgenre came into widespread use around 2022. So much so the "cozy fantasy" tag has about 18 million views on TikTok. Cozy fantasy seems to cast a wide net including anyone from middle grade to adult.

Analyze the sudden interest in ‘low stakes’ fantasy books such as Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree or Cackle by Rachel Harrison. How is the genre defined? What purpose is there to include mythical beings in a story with such little or no magic? What other pieces of media fit within the genre?

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    A Shift in Middle-grade Content Without a Shift in the Target Audience

    The 90s saw tons of ‘darker’ middle-grade series, Animorphs and Goosebumps to name a few. Neither of these series were so mature that they became inaccessible to their target readers but their stories were grounded in themes or tropes that could still appeal to all ages. Discuss the middle-grade demographic and whether it has more potential to experiment and mix genres and exist outside of the common publication conventions than other demographics such as children’s, YA, or adult.

    Thoughts on middle-grade? Thoughts on defining books by their demographic rather than genre? Anyone have any good recommendations for more recent ‘all-ages’ novels or series?

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      Urban Fantasy vs Cosmic Horror

      In the Urban Fantasy genre – Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, etc. – magic and magical creatures exist alongside humans, but humans don’t know about them.
      The Cosmic Horror genre – i.e. H.P. Lovecraft – has a similar rule, except if humans see "past the veil," what they see is usually terrifying and even madness-inducing.
      Meanwhile, in the Percy Jackson series, a demigod can see monsters just fine, but looking at a god or titan’s true divine form is hazardous to their health. This seems to be an overlap between Urban Fantasy and Cosmic Horror. Similarly, the existence of Squibs and Obscurials in Fantastic Beasts lore sometimes approaches Cosmic Horror territory.
      Compare and contrast the two genres. What other overlap exists between them? Where do world-builders and storytellers make distinctions between the genres and why? Do interesting themes and lessons emerge when you consider Urban Fantasy from a Cosmic Horror perspective or vice versa?

      • This topic could be more complete if you delved into the historical functions of both genres. Horror studies traditionally position the horror genre as a means of confronting taboo or unfamiliar things. Why is it that demigods in Percy Jackson are the only ones allowed to witness - regardless of the risk - beings that can cause insanity, whereas Lovecraft's works allow ordinary people to peek behind the veil? Could that be because fantasy-as-escapism invites an extra distance between the reader and the horrifying truths they're confronting? Try looking into some theorists or case studies examining the functions of cosmic horror and YA fantasy. – CharlieSimmons 8 months ago
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      The Role of Magical Realism in Contemporary Literature

      Magical realism is a literary genre that combines elements of the fantastical with the ordinary, blurring the lines between reality and imagination. When writing on this topic, one can explore the significance of magical realism in contemporary literature and its impact on storytelling, symbolism, and thematic exploration. Additionally, one can delve into how authors employ magical realism to convey deeper truths about the human condition, cultural identity and social issues.

      Perhaps consider discussing this topic in relation to well-known magical realism writers such as Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman. As a starting point, consider the following: how is this genre defined and how does it differ from other genres like fantasy/surrealism? How does magical realism challenge readers’ perceptions of reality and provoke them to question the nature of truth and existence? How can magical realism allow authors to explore complex themes and societal issues that might be difficult to address through realistic fiction?

      • All these questions have already been answered extensively. Magical realism is one of the most explored topics by literary critics in the last 50 years, especially after the publication of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." In fact, several studies have shown that there are more pressing and interesting questions than those presented here. – T. Palomino 7 months ago
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      Modern Erotica and the 19th Century Sensation Novel

      It’s a tale as old as erotica: a girl sits down at a coffee shop and pulls out her e-reader because the cover of her steamy romance novels will be judged if she bought the physical book. In 2022 seven of the ten best-selling books were romance novels that contained erotic content. Adult romance and erotica are almost indistinguishable these days, for example the number one best-selling fiction book in 2022 It ends with us by colleen hoover contains several graphic sex scenes yet is labeled romance not erotica. Adult romance is the best-selling fiction genre of all time, yet despite the popularity of the genre, men and women still deal with romance reader shame. Why is this genre seen as trashy? Is it misogyny, classism, or something else?

      Although the criticism of modern erotica may seem like a modern issue, this debate has been going on for centuries. It would be interesting to analyze the modern romance reader shame and its relationship to the criticisms of the 19th century sensation novel.

      • I do not think the unpopularity of Adult Romance can be directly attributed to misogyny, of all things. At best, there is an implicit connection there, and even that, I fail to see. If you think about it, a man reading a steamy romance novel with a suggestive title would be considered a creep if he did it in public--which is considerably worse than being judged trashy. The genre has a bad reputation because it is saturated with low-quality content. A lot of writers try to create erotic fiction. A lot of writers fail. If you compare erotica to historical novels, for example, you are significantly more likely to find tawdry content in the former category than in the latter, not to mention the fact that many people cringe at the believability and logic of most Adult Romance books. – Rahul 9 months ago
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      • This is really intriguing topic. I'm trying to think of 19th century novels that I would classify as erotica. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1929) comes to mind, but I haven't read it myself. I suppose Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded which is much older could work as well. But both of these novels are mainly a commentary on marriage and how sex can fit into it. I think maybe you could argue that erotica isn't considered literature because it seems like its only about the physical act and not the personal or cultural impact. – E. DeWitt 9 months ago
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      The Rise of the Split Time Novel

      Currently, split time novels are some of the most popular in the fiction market. These novels usually pair a historical protagonist with a contemporary one, connecting their stories across time through similar themes and motifs or sometimes a significant object or event. For instance, one protagonist might have lived through World War I or II, and the other might be that protagonist’s grandchild or great-grandchild looking for answers regarding what happened to that grandparent during the war years, but the other family members never talk about.

      Despite the popularity of these stories, they’re arguably becoming formulaic. Some time periods and plotlines are becoming overdone. For instance, it is no longer uncommon for World War II to be the featured historical period. A contemporary protagonist is often drawn to care about the past only if he or she "gets something out of it," such as a promotion at work or a "last chance" to connect with a grandparent dealing with dementia (the question becomes, why didn’t the grandchild ever attempt to connect before)?

      Discuss some of the more popular split time novels and what sets them apart from their myriad counterparts. Discuss what historical time periods aren’t being taken advantage of right now that could be, or what plotlines contemporary characters could experience. For instance, could time travel be a possibility? Body or identity switches? Historical and future timelines?

      • I suggest including good examples of split-time novels to give authors a basis to work from. – noahspud 10 months ago
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      • I agree with noahspud, some examples would be perfect. – Beatrix Kondo 10 months ago
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      • I think something that could break the formulaic nature of the trope would be to have an integration of two different cultures and timelines that are neither modern nor Eurocentric. As you have mentioned the contemporary counterpart is usually the default, acting as the representative of the modern audience, however as an example, if someone from 18th-century Japan met someone from Ancient Egypt or 14th-century Brazil, there can be more chances for complexity. The downside would be introducing the viewer to too many unknown systems. The benefit of the eurocentric and modern counterpart is that it acts as a blank slate. Could this potentially work? – LadyAcademia 10 months ago
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