Monday, April 20, 2009

Reading for Fun

Why is it a sin to read for fun?

This unbelievable title goes with an article in the April 20 Newsweek. It is unbelievable because as a librarian I know that millions of people read for fun, and it’s ok.

The article is about reading for pleasure as seen through various quoted people, most notably Jodi Picoult and her followers. Picoult has had sixteen books published, and she has a substantial fan base. The article says that fiction reading is increasing among young adults, the 18 to 24 crowd, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. The article goes on to say, “…the news was reported by literary blogs and arts journals with throat-clearing about what kinds of books these young adults are reading.”

The article says the judgment is, “All books are good for you…some are just better than others.” It calls this the ‘gateway drug’ theory of literature, that people will naturally want to read harder, deeper texts after starting with enjoyable fiction. It further points out that Picoult knows she won’t win a Pulitzer Prize because her writing is popular.

Are we a nation of puritanical readers? When did pleasure reading become something to be ashamed about? Novels have become mainstream. Many are actually about something. This literary form has been around for a long time. Jane Austen fans will remember her book from a couple of hundred years ago, Northanger Abbey, which is in part a commentary on the gothic novels that were popular among young women of her day.

Gateway drug? Really, it’s time to put aside the negative judgments about today’s novels. It’s ok to read Jodi Picoult, Danielle Steel and vampire novels. I’m not so sure about hard core porn fiction. One decade’s bad taste can become respected literature later. I have trouble believing that Harry Potter will lead to the reading of pornography.

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