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Literary, Slow, and Boring

A few years ago an acquaintance of mine had her first novel published. She and I were talking about the book one day, and she mentioned that her landlord was reading it. Then she remarked that she was very surprised he was doing so. When I asked her why, she replied, "Well, you know, my novel is very literary and slow and boring."

This response struck me as bizarre for a number of reasons. In the first place, why would a writer describe her own work as "slow and boring"? Modesty about one's accomplishments is very becoming, but isn't this carrying self-deprecation a bit TOO far? How many people want to read a novel the very author of which describes as "slow and boring"?

And there's the apparent equation of "literary" and "slow and boring". Does this mean that the one presupposes the other? That literature, by definition, is slow and boring? Where does this leave Shakespeare? Chaucer? Aristophanes? Keats? Yeats? Donne? Ovid? Baudelaire?

It also leaves open the larger question of what, exactly, constitutes literature. Is it only the things people don't want to read, because they're slow and boring? Is it the stuff you take like medicine, on the grounds that even though it tastes awful and sometimes has unpleasant side effects, it's good for you?

By the way...I never read the novel.

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