“The late, great Charlotte Armstrong once found herself at a party, and she met a woman who asked what she did. Charlotte replied, “I’m a novelist.” “What do you write?” asked the woman. Charlotte responded, “Mysteries.” The woman replied, “Oh, I don’t even have the time to read good books.”
Good books. Whatever they are.
Why are certain so called genres of books considered beneath contempt to some readers? Why should people who enjoy reading crime fiction, fantasy, science fiction, or romance be looked down upon? And what would the snobbish bibliophiles have us read instead? Philosophy? Poetry? The History of Timbuktu? I’ve often encountered such individuals throughout my life, and am puzzled by the attitude. Considering how many of us don’t read at all, shouldn’t we be pleased no matter what the reading material? Short of some types of pornography, I suppose. (Reading probably isn’t the main interest there anyway). What is the crime, pardon the pun, in reading mysteries? Some of the greatest writers of all time wrote crime fiction, fantasy, etc. Naturally, Edgar Allan Poe comes to mind–his being the most famous of fantasy and horror stories, and the acknowledged father of American detective fiction. Charles Dickens dabbed in mystery. And let’s not forget Gatsby’s fate. Even if not the classic whodunit–crime plays a huge part in ‘respected’ literature.
Romance enthusiasts are scoffed at regularly by both men and women. Often women don’t want to admit enjoying a little spice in their reading materials. And men are embarrassed by the entire idea. Romantic fiction is bad writing at its worst, some readers believe. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, even Pride and Prejudice have strong romantic themes. Yes, all are written by women, but men have had a hand in romance fiction as well, they use pen names when writing. Or, some like D. H. Lawrence didn’t need to. Although greatly romantic in nature, it’s doubtful that scholars would classify his work as what we now think of as romance fiction. Because, yes, of the stereotype and what that engenders.
Science fiction is not appealing to me. However, I’d never dream of making snarky remarks about those who read outer space adventures. As most readers of this genre will point out–outer space is only a part of what encompasses this type of fiction. I’d always assumed Ray Bradbury wrote outer space novels, full of planetary monsters. It was a huge surprise to finally read his work and realize he could not be categorized as such. Fahrenheit 451 took place in a distasteful future, sans little green men. Something Wicked This Way Comes is definitely earth bound, with a ghostly sideshow roaming the countryside. I love his work, and if not for the stereotyping we all do to various pieces of literature, I would have been enthralled by him all my life. It’s dangerous to assume what a writer’s work is about by how it’s marketed. Publishers need to push the line in some way, to gain attention of readers, and so they classify each book. Chick lit and vampire fiction are new categories, and just as misleading.
What is chick lit supposed to be? Romance with high heels and an expensive wardrobe? I’ve no real understanding of the concept. Elaine Viets was on a panel of mystery writers who are considered chick lit authors. Elaine is a witty wonderful writer who has a woman protagonist. And so? How does that fact make her work chick lit? If it is, fine. I’ll continue reading no matter what area of odd literature terms she’s pigeonholed into.
And then there’s the vampire phenomenon. Where did this obsession arise from? I assumed it was dead. Last time I thought about vampires was when Dark Shadows flickered across my TV screen. I don’t know when the Twilight series began, but I distinctly remember when Charlaine Harris began her Sooky Stackhouse character. Before the series, Charlaine wrote very cosy traditional mysteries and had the success most have as a mid list author. Create a series with vampires, TV and fame comes calling. Which I applaud. Anytime a mid-list author manages to step up the rungs of publishing hell, it’s an occasion for celebration. It doesn’t hurt that her work is highly praised too.
So, what would be the disgrace in reading any of these genres? Next time a person questions you the reader, as to what and why you read something, point out that it doesn’t matter what type of book you read, it only matters how well it’s written. There are great writers in every area, and there are poor ones, even in philosophy, poetry, and histories of Timbuktu.
Thanks to Nancy for pointing out the quote to me!