Monday Musings for November 24, 2008

This is my first Monday Musings post, and what a fun question!

How do you feel about wide-spread reading phenomenons – Harry Potter, for instance, or the more current Twilight Saga? Are these books so widely read for a reason, or merely fads or crazes? Do you feel compelled to read – or NOT to read – these books because everyone else is?

I love the fact that a book can catch the public’s imagination, becoming an “oh, you MUST read this!” book. I think this is a wonderful thing, especially when it’s a children’s book or YA book. It seems to me that people are always saying things like, “today’s kids, they never pick up a book” or “they’re all glued to their computers and XBox” and this simply is not true. Kids do read books, as bestselling series like Harry Potter and Twilight show.

Reading must be engaging, because there are just so many other options calling out for that investment of our time. This is true whether we’re young or adults. It would be very difficult to slog through a book just because it’s the latest thing, if we don’t get something out of it in return. When we sit down to read a book, we are committing time to it, and the book must uphold its end of the bargain or we withdraw our commitment.

As an aside, last week I came across this great review by Stephen King of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where he talks about the secret to Rowling’s success.

Do I feel compelled to read a book because it’s the latest rage? Or the opposite, steer clear of it simply because it’s popular?

I’m a writer, so I read books as part of my own personal writing education. The books I choose to read, I usually do so because either the premise sounds good to me, or they’re in a genre that I am interested in. If a bestselling book is in a genre that I regularly read, and it becomes highly popular, then yes, I will read it. I want to form my own opinion about it, and I want to see what elements of it make it so popular, because if it’s in a genre that I read, you can bet I’ve got a book idea somewhere in that genre, too.

If it’s in a genre that I don’t regularly read, then I’m not as inclined to read it, but I might give it a try if, in reading others’ reviews, I catch a glimpse of something that excites me. This happens far more often than not, actually.

I would NEVER steer clear of a book simply because “everyone else is reading it”. Stephen King (again!) said it so well, I think, in his acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, 2003:

Tokenism is not allowed. You can’t sit back, give a self satisfied sigh and say, “Ah, that takes care of the troublesome pop lit question. In another twenty years or perhaps thirty, we’ll give this award to another writer who sells enough books to make the best seller lists.” It’s not good enough. Nor do I have any patience with or use for those who make a point of pride in saying they’ve never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer.

What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?

You don’t have to try it, but its bestselling status shouldn’t be the excuse; “this interests me/doesn’t interest me” is the deciding factor for me.

3 thoughts on “Monday Musings for November 24, 2008

  1. Beth F

    Welcome to MM. You raise some good points. I don’t shun a book just because it’s a best-seller, but experience has taught me that my tastes don’t seem to match the majority. So I have to have some other compelling reason to read a book; being a best-seller or getting hype is not enough. And (LOL!) I have never read a Stephen King book! I don’t like horror.

  2. Ms. Bookish Post author

    I used to like horror tremendously when I was a teenager, but I don’t enjoy it much anymore. My tastes have definitely changed! I still like Stephen King very much, though – I steer clear of his books that are more on the horror side these days. I just stick with the ones that are more paranormal thrillers or psychological thrillers.

    Exactly as you said, if a book is very popular but not in a genre that I like to read, there’s got to be a compelling reason other than its popularity in order for me to decide to read it. I’m the same way with award winners in the literary fiction field – I won’t read all of them, just the ones that sound interesting to me.


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