The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Book Culture Wars

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor


Everywhere I turn lately, it seems like readers are condemning one another.  A few months ago, literary fiction novelist Edward Docx wrote an article critiquing genre fiction and lambasting its readers for not reading books with more substance.  (Read my response here.)  Then there were the reviews of Game of Thrones that belittled fantasy fiction (and again, my response).  Then there was that Wall Street Journal article critiquing YA fiction as being too dark.  (I didn’t respond to that one, but honestly: does the writer remember being an adolescent?  Cause it was pretty dark, anyway.)  And recently, I discovered (by way of a fellow blogger I follow) an article from ridiculing the so-called “Mommy Bloggers” and e-book devices at the recent Book Expo America.

What’s up with this?  Shouldn’t we book lovers just be happy anyone’s reading at all?

I remember when I was growing up.  The big, hand-wringing fear was that reading would disappear forever.  School systems and private foundations kept trying increasingly creative ways to entice kids to read.  The biggest of these was Book-It, the program that gave school-aged children certificates for personal pan pizzas at Pizza Hut when they logged at least 180 minutes a month of reading time.  I always exceeded that without any such enticement, but the program did leave me with a lingering taste for personal pans that I try to indulge every few months.

But here in 2011, reading hasn’t disappeared.  If anything, it seems to have more cultural relevance than it did when I was growing up.  We’ve had book blockbusters: Harry Potter, Twilight, and most recently The Hunger Games.  And those oft-maligned e-book devices are becoming more and more popular—and every person I know with an e-book reader, me included, reads more after they have the device than before.  Electronic publishing is giving greater opportunities and distribution to small presses and self-published writers.  And the divisions between genres are disappearing.

If you ask me, it’s an exciting time to be a reader.

But for some reason, there are people who want to rain on that parade.  Because people aren’t reading the right things in the right way, there are some so-called cultural guardians who want to wring their hands about it.  Honestly, I don’t get it.  Shouldn’t people read and enjoy what they like?

I’ve been a reader all my life.  I’ve read literary fiction and I’ve read genre fiction.  I’ve read contemporary novels and I’ve read the classics.  I’ve read poetry and nonfiction—and, for better or worse, never really managed to acquire much of a taste for either.  Once upon a time, I worried what other people would think of my reading choices, so I restricted my reading to only “good” fiction.  At a certain point, I just decided not to worry about it and just read what I like.  Even so, I sometimes find myself getting uncomfortable when people ask me what I’m reading, because there is, unfortunately, a large percentage of the reading population out there who will deem my kind of reading “not good enough.”

I hate that attitude, and it’s not something I want to perpetuate as CC2K’s Book Editor.  I do not review every book I read.  (God help me, I wouldn’t have TIME to review every book I read).  But you may have noticed that most of my reviews tend to be positive ones.  Why?  Because I’d much rather promote books I think are awesome than tear down books I dislike.  (The few times I’ve written negative reviews—usually on advance review copies—I’ve actually become quite upset.)  So yes, I intentionally pick and choose what I write about, because I’d rather spread my joy about reading than tear down other people’s choices.

I am passionate about reading.  When I find a book I love, regardless of genre or reading level, I want to jump for joy and spread the word.  Maybe most of the people who read my articles will never pick up the books I recommend.  But I’d like to think that some will—especially since I get most of my book recommendations these days from other blogs.  Reading brings me joy, and I refuse to begrudge other people the books that bring them joy.  

Fiction or nonfiction.  Genre or literary.  Adult or YA.  E-book or paper.  Who cares?  It’s all reading.