Originally Posted by Yaluen
but really, how many of those books you consider "garbage" have you actually picked up and read? Sure, their cover isn't as beautiful (again, highly subjective) ... but hey, never judge a book by its cover
Well said. And I suppose this argument applies to every reader on earth, not only to light novel buffs or literature fans.
The fundamental storytelling/writing characteristics of "Light novel" as a category of novel is basically undefined. The only reason that you can see so many so called "light novels" in Japan is just because there are certain publishers there actively promoting their works to teenagers, and they conveniently label their lineups as "light novels".
Despite that it is being conveniently lumped with manga in this board, strictly speaking they are completely different in nature. Kagami from Lucky Star will surely give you a big whack if you claim otherwise
You may start by checking out a few titles like "Ningen Shikkaku" or "Kokoro". The "light novel style" of covers may turn you away. But these critically acclaimed literature works, well respected locally and overseas for decades, were published well before WW2 and of course the anime and manga boom.
Basically the use of anime-style covers is just a gimmick to make the works more accessible to teenagers. It neither adds nor subtracts literature values, as your golden rule of "never judge a book by its cover" has been suggesting for centuries . Get one of the said books, peel off the covers and read the content. Your literature teacher will cry if you still say that that there is no literature value in it.
A closer example to you is possibly Sherlock Holmes. This is widely recognized as a light novel in Japan. So does this fact hurt your enjoyment of the story and make you start scanning for grammatical mistakes?
Maybe you will argue that up to this points, all the examples I have brought up are classics "packaged as" light novels. If it is the case, you may be interested in the following titles.
This is the SDF series by Hiroshi Arigawa, an award winning writer (Seiunshou 2008, long story category) whose portfolio contains a number of "ordinary novels" and "light novels". The three books above belong to the same series. The publisher initially published the first book under the Dengeki label. Later it had been found that the book was doing better in the working adults market, and the publisher eventually printed the sequels under another label catered to adults.
Another title which has been brought up earlier in this thread, GOSICK, is by Kazuki Sakuraba who has won the Naoki Sanjyuugoshou in 2007, a novel award well respected and well received in Japan. Interestingly, she has also written a number of books published both as "light novels" and "ordinary novels". The following is basically the same story published under 3 different labels. Sounds like fundamental market segmentation strategies in Marketing 101.
I would say the fine line between "ordinary novels" and "light novels", arbitrarily drawn by certain publishers, is getting more and more blurred. While in literature sense, such a line has never existed at all. Classifications like "drama," 'slice-of-life," or "mystery" can at least give a very general idea of the story. But "light novel" in itself doesn't mean anything at all, except that the story is possibly published by one of the "light novel publishers" in Japan.
Of course there are light novels of poor quality, just as you can easily find poorly written works in US or UK. But making sweeping generalizations on light novels as a whole based on your apparently limited exposure to the genre, is as intelligent as calling Shakespeare's works crap just because there are porn novels in UK. To me, Japanese literature as a whole is in no way better or worse than English literature. While the latter should not be "underestimated" as you have suggested, it is counter-productive to "holify" it and reject works from other countries just because of differences in writting styles.
Moreover, I don't think anyone of us here is advocating for burning down school libraries or kicking Shakespeare away for Haruhi. We only want publishers to better polish their marketing strategies, and possibly promote light novels as an alternative kind of leisure reading.
Classic literature fans can stick to classic literature for all they like. But for people who are mature and open-minded enough to appreciate literatures written by writers with different culture backgrounds and mindsets, they will certainly welcome a greater selection of light novels in book stores and libraries.
Also, teenagers who had their initial exposure to Japanese culture through anime/manga may be interested in deepening their understanding of Japan through light novels while having an enjoyable reading at the same time. Will teenagers who hate classic literature with a passion actually read more when more light novels are available? No one can tell with 100% accuracy. But it is certainly a market segment far from saturation with numerous opportunities. Moreover, the general consensus is that reading something regularly, classic literature or not, is better than nothing at all. Since it has been established that Japanese literature is by no means inferior to Western literature, I cannot see any harm with teenagers spending more time on light novels that they enjoy.
So anyway, just stick to your golden rule of not judge a book by its cover, be more open-minded with works that are not under Great Britannia, and scrap the anime-style covers if they disturb you