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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Is popular fiction bad?

I’ve been getting a bit irked by the amount of threads slamming popular fiction as ‘bad’ lately. There are currently a number of mass-market book series that may not be the best ‘literature’ on the planet. I don’t personally care for the way the Twilight or even, dare I say, the Harry Potter books are written, and I won’t be sitting down to read them (although I have tried) but does that give me, or anyone else, the right to universally slam them as bad?

Ok, these popular books may not be ‘literary,’ whatever you think that means, and they may break most, if not all, the ‘proper’ conventions we are constantly taught as authors (or would-be authors.) But, I do honestly think people have to define what they mean by ‘bad’ a bit more.
Remember the two afore-mentioned book-series in particular are responsible for introducing a lot of people to reading that probably would never have picked up a book otherwise.
I know perfectly reasonable, well balanced, and intelligent adult people who do like the Twilight and HP books. So who am I, or anyone else, to tell them and the millions of other readers, that they are reading rubbish?
People have always read ‘rubbish,’ in other peoples opinions. Some of the books lauded as ‘classics’ by the nay-callers of today may very-well have been seen as a bit ‘rubbish’ by some when they were first published. Not that I’m saying the Twilight or HP series will become classics, but who is to say really? Only time will tell.

So where does the current trend for slamming popular books come from?
Why is it that a certain percentage of people seem to hate these books so much as to deem them universally bad? And I’m not just talking about the two series I mentioned earlier here. The general trend amongst non-mainstream readers nowadays seems to be to deride popular fiction and laude over the merits of other lesser-known authors.
Now don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of work from new and unknown authors. I even ‘occasionally’ peek at things that are generally considered to be more ‘literary’, and I do like some of them. I do think people should be more adventurous with their reading, it’s how I’ve discovered some of my personal favourite books. But people have to start somewhere, and if they start and stop at twilight… well at least they started, right? Everyone has their own taste, and if that only lends itself to the big mainstream series, that’s better than nothing at all, right?
After all, popular titles have generally got that way for a reason, and that reason is a very simple one: people are buying the books because they like them, simple as that.
And that brings me back to my original question: why is popular fiction bad?

I think some people have to remember that a ‘good-book’ doesn’t have to be a life-changing event. It can be that, but it can equally just be a bit of simple, fun, light-hearted entertainment to kill a few hours. Just like a ‘no-brains required’ action film, or button-basher mindless-blaster computer game can be.
Can it be that we still have too much book-snobbery in the world?

Surely HP, and even Twilight, can be seen as a good thing, in that they have enticed hoards of previously non-readers to read anything at all? These books could be the starting off point for a whole new generation of readers; surely that’s a good thing?

Can you honestly say a book is badly written if people like it, and would much rather read it over ‘properly done’ and ‘literary’ fiction; which most mainstream-readers generally describe as ‘boring.’ Isn't this just snobbery, plain and simple?

If there really is something that inherently makes a good ‘book’, as opposed to the technicalities of ‘good writing,’ then surely it could be argued that the only valid acid-test is the number of people reading that book, and we all know what the ‘best’ books would be in that case…

Surely any book that gets people reading is a good book?


  1. Good or bad, it's all subjective.

    "Did you enjoy it?" The answer to that question defines whether or not that individual person thinks the book is good.

  2. I agree, and that should really be all that matters.
    And by that measure a lot more ‘readers’ must think the popular stuff is good.
    So where does the negative, ‘all popular books are rubbish nowadays’ attitude come from? It’s certainly very prevalent, especially on readers’ forums.