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Barron Field

Literary study tends to be characterised by bipolar episodes, swinging between enjoyment and judgement. There is reading for pleasure and learning to be critical, or making up your mind about how good, bad, or indifferent a literary work is. This way of thinking about literature still pervades all levels of the cultural and social scenes where readers talk to one another. We discuss with our friends or communities whether we like a work of literature or not, but when things get formal or seminar-serious the conversation shifts to whether we think that work is any good – a different thing. The Saturday review pages wobble between these two modes, between chat about whether readers will like a book or film, and whether it’s any good or not. Some texts that have become good over time, canonical in other words, we might not like. ‘Like’, here, of course, is a very fuzzy notion, although you would have to be delusional to think a book is automatically good because you like it. And liking certain texts, Ern Malley’s poetry or Stephenie Meyer’s fiction for example, might be evidence, in some people’s view, of a lack of taste, or bad judgement. But as we say, there’s no accounting for that.

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