Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Reading and Pleasure

            The first thing for you to understand, Reader, is that what I read now is not what I read then, and this is due in large part to the nature of my job.  And because books cross my hands at the Circulation Desk I would not normally see, the job has expanded my reading circle in ways I did not expect. This included Popular Fiction, something that as a Serious Student, and then a Serious Writer and Scholar, I had no use for.  
Then, on a lark,  I took home a copy of Barbara Michael’s The Master of Blacktower. I was feeling a bit sick (or maybe just a bit sad), so I took it straight under the covers with a large cup of tea and box of mini cupcakes. This book is, by no means, Great Literature. The Jane Eyre tropes were apparent, as they are in much of Romantic Suspense, and while the writing may not have been beautiful, it was seamless and invisible. The plot was far-fetched, but it was so ridiculous and it was paced so well, I was just pulled along. And it was fun.
Really, really fun.
            Fun, remember? Remember Fairies? Remember Kissing? Remember Pirate Ships and Space Aliens and Werewolves? Remember, guys?
            As children the adults in our lives – our parents, librarians and teachers – went to great lengths to find books that we would actually like, to make sure that reading became something fun to do, something we would want to do, so that … well, to ensure that we would be Readers. And then we grow up and become adults and all the Pirate Ships and Fairies get put away leaving us with what? Couples going through a harrowing divorce. People sitting across the table from each other dealing with their Alcoholism and Not Telling Their Father How They Really Feel. And any book that might contain a character or a situation that would Not Be Possible In Real Life, all too often gets shoved in the children’s room, whether that’s appropriate or not. Because , if it’s not Something Real, how could a Real Adult be interested in it? N’est pas?
            It all makes me so bored I feel like I’m going deaf.
            And the books that give us something else, that might give us something exciting, like a murder or zombies and an airship or a tragic romance are dismissed, noses are wrinkled, hands are waved in front of faces and people say, “Oh, I don’t read those kind of books.”
            I’m not talking about excusing bad and sloppy writing.  But I just don’t understand why a crappy ‘GENRE’ novel is somehow so much crappier than a crappy Literary novel. I also don't understand why the use of an established structure demeans the book. We don't say this about Sonnets, for example.  And for that matter, I don’t understand why Literary Novels don’t see themselves as a genre, why they too often take themselves so seriously, why they feel the need to take 50 or 100 pages to ”teach us how to read it”.  There are “literary” novels I enjoy, but most of these end up using some of the same structures and tropes at work, in say Mysteries or Adventures. And some of the “genre” books I’ve most enjoyed use a level of language or an innovation of structure often seen (or at least attempted) in Literary Novels.
            What are the books that have been the Most Fun for you? Do you even think about books this way? What’s the last book you read that really surprised you? Or do you shy away from reading books altogether, because you’re afraid that you’ll be bored?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I agree. I remember those days in school when teachers went out of their way to find you a great popular fiction book to inspire you to read more. Whether it was Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, whatever, you gobbled it up and you felt excited about the world of books. Then once you hit high school and of course university, you were taught what most others perceived "real literature" to be. And what "real" literature was was not what popular fiction was, in essence. Today I still love checking out both the classics and today's popular genres.

    Not sure what my most fun book has been, but as a child maybe the Famous Five. Who didn't want to go on an adventure? As an adult, Christine Feehan's Carpathian series. That just puts me in another world! lol The last book I read that really surprised me was some years ago for a university class. The name and author escapes me right now, but it dealt with racism in old America and the issues that Black families went through. A very real, not-for-children scene cropped up when the father's feelings of insignificance and hurt turned upon his young daughter and she was molested. The female author did a frighteningly accurate job of describing the psyche of the father in that moment to the reader that almost made you "understand" how someone could go to that step. For that reason the book is banned in a lot of places, but not in that university classroom.