Right before Harry Potter got insanely popular, around the time Grand Theft Auto was responsible for all adolescent misbehavior, adults wept for their surely illiterate children. Why were these cretins more interested in the multi-colored pencil toppers at the Scholastic Book Fair than the books themselves? What could be done about this national tragedy? Luckily for us all, JK Rowling swept down on her chariot of spectacular self-marketing and adequate writing skill and put an end to these fears — hurrah! our kids were reading not only Harry Potter, but all those books that were kind of like Harry Potter. They even made a Golden Compass movie, despite the fact that the books are terrible and mostly a platform for Philip Pullman to whine about the evils of the Catholic church. And hey, those Narnia movies weren’t terrible. Certainly not as bad as The Golden Compass, at least.
But sadly this golden age of voracious tween reading took a dark turn. For as these children became teenagers, and these teenagers became adults, they weren’t putting away their dog-eared copies of Prisoner of Azkaban for immaculately-maintained volumes of good and appropriate literature — nay, they were just going on to the next generation of tween titles, like The Hunger Games or Twilight or any other book with a wan-looking teenage vampire on the cover.
Suddenly we had a new reading crisis – not content with just making everyone read, the great self-important Powers that Be decided that, up until now, all adults read good and serious adult books and that there was a new influx of garbage and teen titles ruining reading for everyone. A ridiculous concept for two reasons – 1, Why should you care what other people are reading, provided they are reading. It would be nice if everyone had amazing taste in books and only really great novels ever got written, but that brings me to point 2, People have pretty much always read garbage.
I’ve ranted about this before when talking about 50 Shades of Grey – it’s fun to make fun of a shitty book that everyone read, and I guess it’s fun to decide that you can make fun of the intelligence or taste of someone who actually enjoyed it, but you certainly can’t fool yourself into thinking that poorly-written racy novels haven’t always flown off the shelves. In fact, it’s a rarity to have someone like Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, both of whose books are now considered classics and both of whom were popular and widely read when they were alive.
But if you’re still imagining that we’re heading down a hellhole spiral into the darkest era of the publishing industry where only bad books get published and the great American novel will never get written, keep in mind that it’s equally rare to have these racy, trashy, poorly-written books stand the test of time. When was the last time you picked up a copy of The Lamplighter, for instance, an 1854 bestselling sentimental novel? Bad novels get left in the dust.
With that said, you still need to get off your high horse. People, including myself, read teen novels because they’re easy, they’re fun, they’re stupid and they pass the time. Sometimes I would rather read a crappy teen novel than the year’s most “important” novel. And I’m free to do that without it somehow impacting my IQ or causing my school to revoke my English Honours degree. Most importantly of all, crappy books are, and always will be, an integral part of the publishing industry. If you want your poor starving artist novelist who’s going to redefine writing in the 21st Century to get his book advance, you’re going to have to accept the fact that that advance came from the store houses loaded up by shitty novels being sold to the people you like to sneer at.
Happy New Year!