I’ve been having a lot of the same conversation recently.
Me: “Oh, you read (insert genre fiction title, most often Hunger Games or the like) too? What did you think?”
Them: “It was good… you know, for the type of book it is.”
or: “I enjoyed it. Not, you know, deep, but fun.”
Why, why, why do people feel they have to qualify these statements? So you read a book for pure enjoyment. So you didn’t have to parse a Rushdie-esque paragraph, searching for subtext and historical parallels to figure out what’s going on. So your mind wasn’t totally expanded (though, personally, the conversations I’ve had based on Hunger Games certainly introduced more debate and civic rumination than, say, A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering you-know-what).
Let’s talk history here, folks, ignoring our greek and eastern literary heritage, and focusing solely on the novel as it exploded in popularity after the invention of moveable type. Whether you call Aphra Behn, Defoe, or Richardson the first novelist, they were all pretty well considered to be, if not lowbrow, certainly not writing for the upper classes. The novel was designed to entertain, and to entertain the middle class, specifically. The very best novels did make you think about what was happening, be it slavery, colonialism, or economic reform, but first, they entertained. They were designed to go down easier than greek histories and philosophical tracts. They were written to be the easy, fun reads of the time.
I have no problem with literary fiction; some of my best friends are literary novels. I just think there’s a more important distinction to make than the one between literary and genre fiction, especially with the meteoric rise of self-pubbed books: Bad, and Good.
I have no problem with you looking down your nose at 50 Shades of Grey. But not because of the niche it fills – please, please, call a spade a spade and admit that it’s bad writing. She obviously struck a chord, and more power to her, but it makes me cringe to see people reading her book and then broadly dismissing all erotic fiction (and their talented, savvy authors).
The process of writing, of constructing a compelling novel with complex, interesting characters and pitch-perfect pacing, is not easy. It is an art. And the artists that do it well deserve respect, regardless of the genre they happen to be writing in. So please, the next time you ‘admit’ to liking something, consider why you like it, and if it’s because the author skillfully caught your interest and held it, please rephrase your statement. Or you may get a bop in the nose from me.