Why Fainthearted Readers Use Bookcovers

This morning, I read this article/essay from The New York Times.

I have no complaints about the essay– I agree with her wholeheartedly, and view genre fiction in much the same way. I mean, YA is just another genre, right? Unless I’m missing something it is, anyway.

But the essay got me thinking about something that annoys me, and that is snobbery.

I’ve definitely got my reading preferences– who hasn’t?– but I hope I’m not a snob. I think I used to be, before I went into the MFA. My reading preferences at the time were very narrow: Dead British Guys. Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh. Of course, I loved the classics, too– but these Brits were as modern as I got. Anybody after that was gauche, and I just wasn’t interested. Even the mysteries I read stayed within that era, though they tended to be written by women– Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie.

The MFA program was a rude awakening. My preferences were archaic compared to the texts the program required me to read, and at first I balked. Not out loud, of course, because that would have meant I would have had to speak out loud (jeepers!), but I silently suffered. The whole first year I read what I was told to read and hated all of it.

But, see, I had my other reading outlets. I still had my Dead Brits to fall back on. Some people have comfort food, like macaroni and cheese or something, and I have comfort authors. Comfort books. You go ahead and eat pizza– I’m going to read Graham Greene’s Twenty-One Short Stories. When I went camping for the first time ever, I was twelve and scared to death. I was stuck in the woods with bears, putrid outhouses, and my crazy stepfather. When I packed for the trip, did I take a Bible? No, I took this:

And a flashlight, of course.

But I am beginning to stray from what I meant to post about, and that is that at least I have comfort books to fall back on, when I don’t like what I am being told to read. Comfort books are important, and I don’t think it should matter what they are, because they keep someone literate, and even more importantly, somebody derives comfort and solace from that piece of text.

Sure, I’ve never read the Twilight series, and from many accounts it’s really badly written– but so what? If people are captured by the storytelling, and they are reading, and they are finding some kind of escape or comfort through the act of reading, then so what? Who cares what genre it is? Whose business is it to get all snotty about it? Would I read Twilight? No, not in  a million years. But there are tons of other things I read that don’t fit into the literary canon.

I suppose the thing that bothers me about the article is not what is contained within the article, but the memory that the article invokes. Remember a few years ago, when Jonathan Franzen and Oprah gave each other the stinkeye?

But I am still straying. I’m like one of those wayward cows that meanders across several neighboring yards and a slow highway.

What I meant to write about was how we should all have the liberty of finding comfort within a book, regardless of genre or literary merit. I know that’s kind of unrealistic. How would I feel if somebody told me we should all have the liberty of reaching Zen by fixing Volvo radiators?

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