Saturday, September 29, 2012

Please mistress, may I have another Victorian novel?

You know a woman is going to be a bad date when she says, “I read a lot of literary fiction, so I’ve earned the right to read Hunger Games!” You know that remark is going to Part One of a biblical flood of babble, and that you’re going to have to roofie yourself just to deal with the pain.

But enough about my life…
About “literary fiction:” People talk about the lingering effects of Sunday school on children, how it injects them with guilt and warps their views on sex, pleasure, and just general happiness for years afterward. I think these commentators are on to something, and that similar guilt hangovers are spawned in regular classrooms; especially when it comes to recreational reading.
I continue to be surprised by how many adults apologize for reading “non-literary” fiction. You ask what they read, and they sheepishly say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Why sheepish? Because they have succumbed to the shame dished out by all those throwaway English teachers they were forced to listen to in school; teachers who said you must read literature, not page turners! Now as adults they carry around guilt for picking Stieg Larsson over Emily Brontë. Instead of just reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and experiencing pleasure, they have to apologize for it or do penance by following it up with Wuthering Heights.
To carry the sex analogy further, it is like their first contact with reading was associated with pain—homework, being forced to endure coma tomes like Ethan Frome—and now they can’t experience the pleasure of reading without having some pain mixed in. They can’t read Hunger Games without thinking of their English teacher, their literary dominatrix shaking her head at them for committing the sin of reading something they enjoy. It runs so deep that even when they do “indulge” in a guilty pleasure like Hunger Games, the guilt keeps them from enjoying the full sensation. It is like reading with 3 condoms on.
We hear plenty about Sunday school survivors moping through life with all kinds of hang-ups about pleasure. We don’t hear about the hang-ups of adult readers. Hardened Sunday school grads struggle with things like their enjoyment of secular music. We laugh at them for it. We don't laugh at adult readers who struggle with their enjoyment of page turners.
I also think this need to be “literary” exists because even for adults, your taste in music and literature never cease to be pissing contests. Some folks are such slaves to the classroom mentality that in lieu of a GPA, they must find a way to put themselves on some form of honor roll.
I have not read Twilight or Hunger Games or the Stieg Larsson books. They might deserve all the bashing they get. But as I have posted before, I don’t believe in giving yourself homework. Reading, like anything else, is entertainment.
Speaking of entertaininment, isn't it odd that people don’t apologize for playing fantasy football or online poker; activities that are usually considered frivolous, but they do apologize for being caught with a copy of Hunger Games, even though reading it means they’re reading; an activity most people consider innately valuable?
You want some literary fiction with your reading? You need some pain? Next time you’re reading Hunger Games, take your free hand and smash your fingers in a leather-bound copy of War and Peace.

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