Crap books and good books (was Re: Best Books of 2004)

ROSLYN rosgross at
Sat Jan 22 08:58:13 EST 2005

Melissa wrote:

> Of course Ros enjoyed _The Da Vinci Code_.  It's a very good thriller, and
> the inclusion of a conspiracy theory that has been well-documented makes
> it
> seem more like real life.  I saw a show based on _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_
> that went all over Brittany and France and showed castles and how they
> were
> arranged in a pattern that you could see from the air--it was all very
> interesting.  The ideas are interesting.  Yes, it's still a truly crappy
> book in one sense, but not in any way that would *ensure* that no reader
> could enjoy it, such as unintelligible prose or poorly attributed
> dialogue.


> I still haven't finished working through this thought, so I don't know
> where
> I'm going with all of this.  It just seems to me that reading preferences
> ought always to be inviolable, up until the point that you start insisting
> that what you like is by definition Good (i.e. of intrinsic quality and
> that
> others should like it too).  I know darn well that the Stardoc novels are
> terrible emotional manipulation and not at all quality literature.  I
> think
> they're fun.  I know that I should appreciate Robertson Davies more, and I
> think he's a fantastic writer, but I just don't enjoy his books.   And I
> admit that I am mystified that more people aren't bothered by _The Da
> Vinci
> Code_ in the way I am, mainly because it's frustrating to see that kind of
> gap between myself and others.  But it's not like I can't see why it's
> appealing.

Interesting issues here, Melissa! You are so right that there is a
difference between a "good" book and a crappy one that you enjoy, and that
despite objective standards of grammar, sentence structure, etc) it is
difficult to definitively, objectively define a "good" or "bad" book. So I
think you're
perfectly right in saying that my having enjoyed reading _The Da Vinci Code_
doesn't say anything about its "goodness" or "badness" as a book. That the
book is manipulative is beyond doubt (but then lots of books I wouldn't
hesitate to call "good" are also manipulative; there must be a line to
cross, but I haven't thought it all through yet). So...I guess this is what
I should have said: I enjoyed the book, but I can understand why people vote
it the worst book of the year. For myself, I don't think I've even begun to
sort out this whole issue.

I've always been fascinated in the phenomenon of Enid Blyton, for instance. 
Much of what she wrote would almost certainly be considered by many people
to be poor quality literature, and yet it was so popular--and some of it 
still is. When I was a kid, her fantasy books _The Magic Faraway Tree_ and 
_The Wishing Chair_, with their sequels, were so loved that teachers used to 
use class readings of the
books to bribe kids to behave. One of my brothers, who has never read
fiction, still looks back on the Wishing Chair books with great fondness and
passion. My kids loved both these fantasy series when they were little; my
daughter, who has 'sophisticated' reading tastes and now, as a young adult, 
bags the books for
their writing style, consdescending manner and sexism, nevertheless will
talk with fondness about them. Of course, part of all this is the changing 
of fads and fashions in writing. But it's a complicated issue--and I'm 
really glad you brought it up.


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