So, we’ve all been there, right? All your friends are immersed in critical readings of Shakespeare and Spenser, or talking about the merits of Socrates’ philosophies versus Plato’s, or the Byronic nature of Austen’s heroes, and there you are, wanting to gush about how incredibly sweet and selfless Peeta Mellark is or how charming and honest Wes from The Truth About Forever is. Which isn’t to say that you don’t appreciate Shakespeare, and Socrates, and Jane Austen’s stars. In fact, you love them. Honestly, we all do. But there is this stigma, this concept of “literary” that hangs over our heads as readers, especially if you’ve got some sort of a degree in English. You can just feel the contempt for popular young adult novels rolling off of colleagues and classmates. As an “educated” reader, you are supposed to appreciate the classics, the intellectually stimulating, the artistic, but never that recently released, trashy romance that is somehow selling millions.
As I’m writing this, I’ve got the finished pieces of my master’s dissertation minimized on my desktop and a whispered conversation echoing through my mind. Sitting in one of the many cafes at my university, I had a discussion with one of my comrades in arms revolving entirely around those “trashy” novels. So many of us sit in scorn of books like Twilight and The Immortal Instruments trading insults about the disparity of literary qualities, about the horrible sentence structure and the utter lack of character and sequential plot development, and then we go home, pull up that loose floorboard and reveal our secret library of “trashy literature” well stocked with Edward Cullens, Zoey Redbirds, and Clary Frays.
The truth is, many of us love these books, too. And why shouldn’t we? Maybe they aren’t books that cause you to have an existential crisis about the things you haven’t yet achieved in life, maybe when you put them down, all you’re thinking about is what you’ll have for dinner (because you just went on a sixteen hour reading bender), and maybe they don’t make you reevaluate your position in life, but who can handle that kind of stress every time they pick up a book? Sometimes, it’s about the greatest thing in the world to lie back with a piece of writing that is nothing but entertaining. Sometimes, it’s nice to kick your shoes off, grab a cup of coffee and delve into a ridiculous, dramatic, superfluous, and totally engrossing story and just let the mindlessness of it numb your brain to the stresses of the world. Sometimes, it’s nice not to muddle through circuitous, Victorian language, or to wonder if you’ll ever measure up to the creative genius of George Elliot. Sometimes, it’s just exquisite to fantasize about some crazy lover who would (and could) move mountains for you without a second thought.
As a supposedly educated reader, I found myself whispering in furious excitement as I discussed the House of Night novels and their ridiculous dialogue and outrageous plots. And lowered my voice still more as I gushed about my crush on Edward Cullen because I’m pretty sure mention of the Twilight series in any positive capacity would get me ostracized and possibly prevent my graduation. Yet, in truth, I did enjoy those books. They may not be lasting classics that readers a hundred years from now are studying for their dissertations (or maybe they will be, who knows?) but I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent engrossed in those and many other “trashy” novels. We all want to impress our coworkers and colleagues, but our reading habits shouldn’t have to be something we hide away, closeting the fact that we actually read for the pure enjoyment of it, to escape the fact that you still have 3000 words of your essay to write, or that those reports you’re only half way through are due in by Monday and it’s Sunday evening. So I invite us all to stand proud of the fact that we actually have fun reading the books we read. Maybe it really is worth passing that one particularly hilarious series on to a friend. Chances are, s/he’s a closet reader too and you may just have supplied some water cooler chat for the few days. Reading is meant to be a pleasure, it’s meant to inspire and enthrall. The fact that we picked up a book for entertainment rather than turning on the television speaks for itself. Step out of that literary closet and acknowledge the unequivocal value of appreciating a book, whatever that book may be.