When I was growing up I was an avid reader. Intense. Obsessive, almost. Friday afternoon I’d go to the library and get a stack of books that reached from the ends of my extended fingers to my chin. When I got home I’d pile them by my bed, lie down, and dig in. Sunday morning I’d go to church, but by evening the stack was done. I rarely had overdue books (assuming I didn’t forget, lose one, or go on vacation) because I finished them and had to go back for more well before the three week deadline. I couldn’t imagine needing to check books out for that long.
I still love to read, so yesterday I went to a local library. It is a good library, well-supported by its community and well-stocked. I wandered around for half an hour, thumbed through a few volumes, found absolutely nothing I wanted to read. I wanted fiction, fiction with hope, fiction with triumph, fiction with happy endings. Instead I found what I have found since I stopped reading in the YA section and moved over to adulthood. Depressing books. Books in which people do bad things and learn nothing and are not redeemed. Books in which people lose their spirits, their souls, their gumption.
Or books with just plain bad writing. I realize that fiction takes talent and hard work to craft–I took a fiction writing class over the summer and found out just how out of practice I have become, writing sermons all the time–but as a reader reading books that have, in theory been vetted and edited by a publisher, I can’t believe some of the prose that’s out there…or maybe I just don’t have the right taste. Perhaps adults are supposed to like choppy sentences and depressing story lines, because real literature reflects real life which is hard and awful.
But that’s not how I think, and that’s not why I read. The closest thing I can find to what I want in a book is often genre fiction, disdained by the literary world and scorned by people who want to look educated. Mystery, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, the ones that come in garish covers, mass-market paperbacks that fit easily in pockets and purses offering entertainment and escape are not the unredeemable cousins of “real” books. They are real books. And far from being mindless fluff, they often address issues of social inequity, class, race, and cultural change in such an incredibly accessible way that they actually change people’s minds. The power of writing is in getting your words into peoples’ hands and your heart into their brains (or your brain into their hearts), which means
- getting read
- getting understood
- getting mulled over and discussed
It’s like language. Sure, you can use long words, and they’re beautiful and precise, but if you want to use words to communicate you have to find the balance between incomprehensible, beautiful precision and flat, boring, awkward, understandable ideas. The writer who gets the word out, wins.
Pass the pulp, please.