There’s something I don’t get. It’s when people talk about reading as a guilty pleasure. As in, they’re reading it and they’re enjoying it, loving it, can’t put it down. Reading is giving them pleasure.
And they feel guilty about it. Because apparently whatever it is they’re reading isn’t, I don’t know, good enough or something.
Well bollocks to that, I say.
I’m an eclectic reader. A voracious reader. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’ll read anything up to and including the back of a cereal box, if the plot is intriguing enough and the characters grab my interest. There’s a certain quality bar I need the writing skill to match up to, because anything below it tends to get in the way of my enjoyment of the story: clunky prose or ineffective characterisation, leaden plot lines or a POV that shifts all over the place.
The thing has to be written well enough to draw in my emotional investment. But if it can do that, I’m there and I don’t care if it’s the most challenging of high literature or the most popular of, well, pop fiction. Because good writing can be found right across the board.
Now, I’ve got various literature degrees, a librarianship and professional writing quals all framed up on my wall. And my bookshelves reflect that. They also reflect my love of genre and popular fiction. Ulysses sits between a couple of Star Wars original EU novels.* Virginnia Wolf shares a shelf with the Garth Ennis run of Hellblazer comics. Jane Austen cuddles up to JK Rowling (metaphorically speaking), Patrick White next to Terry Pratchett, Joseph Conrad beside Alan Moore.
Oh, you get the picture. And talking about pictures, here, have some bookshelf porn:
My point is, I’ve heard often of late people saying something like “Oh, XX is my guilty pleasure” in regards to their reading and XX doesn’t even refer to any kind of erotica. Because if it did, I’d at least understand what they meant (though I still wouldn’t understand feeling guilty about it).
If reading something gives you pleasure, then that is one of the finest things in the world. Just don’t feel guilty for loving something because you think somebody else might look down upon it, because that’s what this is actually about. A false hierarchy of culture, a sharply protected canon. A need to shore up the concept of high literature by defining a mass culture to distinguish what it’s not.
And for goodness sake, never, ever, shame anyone else for loving reading even if what they adore is not to your taste. If you do that, you’re not a champion of books and words and literature and thought, you’re just a sad old sod trying to make yourself feel better about your own reading tastes by denigrating someone else’s.
So if Patrick White is your thing, embrace it. If Dan Browne is what gets you in, celebrate that. If you love both, all the more reading fun for you. Yay.
Life’s too short not to read and it’s way too short not to love what we’re reading.
* For the record, I enjoyed Timothy Zahn far more than James Joyce. Though if we were talking Dubliners instead of Ulysses, it might have been a closer competition. Dubliners is awesome. Ulysses… uh, yeah, well, those are some very plodding weeks of my life I’ll never get back, hey.