Why you need to stop hating popular genre fiction
The really good books are the ones you never grow out of.
- Total Shares
Dear Lit Snobs,
I’m not here to diss the classics. Or high literature. I’m here to ask you not to frown at popular writing. I’m here to emphasise how mass market, genre fiction, whatever you want to call it, has its own magic.
On my first day in college, our English Lit teacher threw out an icebreaker question. "So what kinds of books have you guys read?" I threw my hand up, among other hopefuls, eager to impress when she added this disclaimer, "And please don’t say Harry Potter. That’s not literature."
Yeah, it’s only the foundation on which my entire childhood was built, but okay.
Try to remember what really got you into reading. It wasn’t a critic’s recommendation or the required reading your teachers put on a syllabus. Not really. It was bedtime stories, read out loud. Stories that made you stifle yawns and stay up way past your bedtime just to know what happens next.
You didn’t turn your nose up and say – oh this seems like a story about tween detectives, it doesn’t quite make the cut. You devoured The Secret Seven before exams could begin, Tinkle magazine in the summer holidays and graduated to Sidney Sheldon mysteries at some point.
These were your first teachers about good and evil, stalkers and murderers, love and sex and relationships. They took you out of your own life, transporting you from a smelly local train into Narnia. And there’s nothing wrong with you if you like to read them.Try to remember what really got you into reading.
I spent the next few years in college, passionately reading the kind of stuff that’s supposed to feed your mind and water your soul.
In my second year, I cleared out my bookshelf and gave away a stack of hardcover Nancy Drews. But when I had my first massive heartbreak the next summer, I spent the holidays reading and re-reading Twilight. Yes, yes, yes, lots of essays and commentary on why Twilight is problematic. But as a girl who had never had a real person hit on me, let alone a 100-year old vampire, I enjoyed the flirtation.
I, a strident feminist, read hungrily as Edward Cullen saved a clumsy, helpless Bella Swan from rapey men, bloodthirsty vampires but mostly himself. It was a great summer of escaping reality and feeling swoopy sensations in my belly as Edward parks his shiny ass next to Bella’s in a sunlit field, saying sappy-as-fuck things about a lion falling in love with a lamb.
And so I write to you. Magazines, critics, bloggers, book fans, literature students. Those of us who cringe inside when someone tells us they’re reading Danielle Steele. Yes, we need to read better and ask better of our writers. But don’t hate on a book that gives someone else joy.
If you truly believe that reading more makes us better people, you’ll know that we’re more likely to read what’s interesting to us – page turners, whether they’re romances, or mysteries, fantasy fiction, comic books or the story of Bob the fu**ing builder.
Yes, you’re allowed to have an opinion on Chetan Bhagat. But doesn’t a secret part of you find it amazing that so many Indians are showing interest in reading a book?
Books tend to find you when you need them the most. They don’t belong to a genre. A fast-paced thriller could keep you going through your dad’s surgery. A fairytale, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, can exist to tell you that your monsters can be slain. But the really good books are the ones you never grow out of.
So you can walk away from Twilight, knowing the telltale signs of an abusive relationship. But you’re allowed to give the story a chance, to be taken by it, to have a dialogue with it, to fight its ideas tooth and nail.
So the next time you see someone reading Shopaholic on the metro, ask them what they love about it. Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite book.