Genre prejudice

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Jul 15 18:37:26 EDT 2003


On Tue, 15 Jul 2003 22:42:29 +0100, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>What is the shame in reading for pleasure, and why is it somehow admirable
>to read what one does not find pleasurable and only ploughs through out of
>some sort of sense of duty -- and to whom is the perceived duty, and how
>does it arise, and why do more people not do as my friend did, fling the
>thing from them and simply *stop*?  Particularly if there is no reason to
>suppose that the end of the book will be in any way a conclusion, so one
>might just as well abandon it at any point?
>
>What is the expectation that justifies the effort?
>
>There may be circumstances such as work of some kind that force one to read
>things even if one does not enjoy them, but what other considerations are
>there that lead to such apparently unsatisfying behaviour?

Well, the obvious reason would be "to make myself look like a brilliant,
well-educated, sophisticated person."  Some people really get off on being
superior to others, and if that's what you care about--appearing to be like
the in-crowd--then that's the expectation that justifies the effort.
Giving up on such books makes you seem like a phony, not quite up to snuff,
not quite as intelligent as everyone else.  Or there are some people who
just don't like to give up on a book no matter how much they dislike it.
And some are masochists.

But for the deeper answer, I think we have to back up just a little more and
address the question of why *anyone* would want to read the kinds of books
you described--with nothing really happening and stylistic choices that
don't improve the book.  And I admit I don't know.  That sounds very boring
and I would rather read a story in which things happen (though I do like
stylism and sometimes having to twist my brain 'round a Gene Wolfe novel is
just the thing to get my blood moving).  But I know many people who prefer
such fiction and they genuinely do like it better.  For whatever reason, it
gives them pleasure to read such stories.  Maybe, in your friend's case, Mr.
Highbrow actually did like such books.  He would still be a jerk for
assuming that they were the only true literature, but he might not have been
plowing through them out of duty.  (I prefer to think such people are the
kind who buy books by the yard, but that's just a pleasant daydream.)

See, I decided after I got my degree, survived the honors thesis committee
("I don't think you really understand what deconstruction means, Ms.
Proffitt"), and settled in to being a baby machine that I wasn't going to
bother reading anything I didn't enjoy, ever again.  Now, I can say that
because I enjoy almost everything except _Wuthering Heights_ and bad poetry.
But even those with more narrow interests could make the same choice.
Reading may be everything to me and a lot of other people, but most of the
rest of the world doesn't have the luxury or has other interests.  So the
implication that only certain texts convey legitimacy upon their readers,
and everyone else is just <humph> reading for pleasure <sneer>, sounds a lot
like justification to me.

But if you could clear away all the rubbish and snobbery, could dismiss that
elitist notion of "real literature" like banishing an evil spirit, you would
still be left with literary fiction and people who love it.  There would
probably be fewer of them and more of us, but they'd still be there.  And if
that's what "reading for pleasure" means to them, that's how it has to be.

I am still looking for a fan of literary fiction who can explain to me what
they see in it.  In some ways they are a remarkably inarticulate bunch.

Melissa Proffitt 

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