Soapbox Time

Posted: November 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

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I’ve been pretty much incommunicado in the last week or so because of work. I’m swamped, I’m drowning and the last thing I want to do is type some more at the end of the day. Today however, Mr. Jazz sent me the link to an article that made my blood boil.

Steve  Proulx of the free weekly newspaper Voir posted this article on the paper’s website on Monday. Here is my translation/summary, as most of you don’t read French I think…

Everyone Is Reading It

I’d like to pick up on this post from the Librairie Monet blog called The Economy of Consensus (Sorry folks, it’s also in French – Jazz)


The author (a bookseller) and I share the same malaise: the general curiosity about books can be measured in millimetres.


The blogger writes: :

“This summer, on vacation at the beach, I looked at what people were reading. It was predictable: Millennium, Fascination (the French title of one of the Twilight books – J) and Harry Potter. I feel like I have a plastic bag over my head. Are we condemned to all read the same thing? What happens to diversity?”

At the Salon (du Livre – the yearly book fair where all the publishing houses gather to tout their wares – J), I saw the same phenomenon.


The public has thousands of titles to choose from on just about any subject. Volumes from yesterday or today, inexpensive and expensive. Everything is there, the choice is theirs.


Everyone reads pretty much the same things (he then goes on to quote a couple of Quebec novels and authors) And of course those damned sexy vampires. Twilight = Sick. To. Death. Of. It. (For the record, me too! – J)

This infatuation for a particular book is hiding something, I’m not sure quite what. Perhaps a certain insecurity about books in general? Rather than risk being surprised (or disappointment), because we aren’t all bulimic readers, we’d rather go with the popular vote.

Everyone is reading it, so it must be good.

Because of this, though, I’m sure a lot of readers miss the opportunity to read a book they’ll really like.

A book written for them.

Well, that was an interesting little exercise. I haven’t translated in forever.

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What really annoys the living hell out of me here is the whole elitist “if you’re reading bestsellers you’re reading crap” bullshit.

I’m one of those bulimic readers. I’ll give pretty much anything a try – from bestsellers to obscure Eastern European writers. I LOVE reading and can’t imagine leaving the house without a book in my bag. I freaking get nervous if I do that – even to go to the corner store.

But.

I don’t expect everyone to be the same. The point is, these people are READING! Which is better than a huge whack of the overall population. So what if they’re reading bestsellers because they’re bestsellers. True, there is some bestseller dreck out there, but there’s also some good stuff. Does it really matter that they’re reading a particular novel because everyone else is?

Besides, for those of us who like obscure Eastern European authors, those bestsellers bring in enough money for editors to actually publish them. They’re not going to generate millions, but the millions generated by the latest Dan Brown or Grisham mean that all 300 of us can read Mr. Obscure. I don’t like Grisham or Brown much, but more power to them if they get people to read – and enable me to read what I like. Hell, I love Stephen King, the emperor of bestsellers (’cause saying King, the king of… is just too repetitive), so who the hell am I to judge.

All things considered, all of society works the same way, doesn’t it? People wear the same clothes, eat at the same restaurants, take the same vacations, buy the same Uggs (now there are some ugly ass boots, but hell, if you like them why should it annoy me?)

Standardization is part of our society and has always been. For all the Brontës (and XUP, I LOVED Wuthering Heights), how many obscure (now lost) brilliant writers were there in the 19th century? I’d venture to think quite as many as today, all proportions being kept.

I can’t help but smile at the whole “Read! Read! Read! (but don’t read bestsellers ’cause they’re not Literature)” issue.

Cultural snobbery drives me insane.
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Comments
  1. Mr. Jazz says:

    You tell 'em Jazz!

  2. Me. too. A) Things are often popular for a reason and B) what's wrong with reading something you enjoy?

  3. Jeaux says:

    They’re bestsellers because they’re good at what they do. There’s a place for hand-made jewelry, and there’s a place for home runs.

  4. Guillaume says:

    Really good article. In a year, I try to include in my reading list works that are either not too famous, or at least not widely read anymore. But there are so many potentially great books that I cannot find anymore, it is frustrating.

  5. Big Brother says:

    Well said lil sister. I admit that I'm not a literati, I don't read obscure books on philosophy or even books from obscure Eastern European authors with unpronounceable names (unless of course they write a great murder mystery). I like reading English murder mysteries, in particular medieval murder mysteries. Are they great literature? Probably not, but they are entertaining and I when I am on vacation I can get through 2 or 3 a week. I don't want to have to think about weighty human affairs, I want to relax and be entertained.

  6. Everyone is trying to feel a step above – better than . . . So if they can impune what you are reading, in their minds, they feel elevated. They probably deserve our sympathy more than our derision.Great post Jazz.

  7. Bandobras says:

    Sure lots of bestsellers are flash in the pan success driven by huge promotional campaigns and soon forgotten. So what any of the good ones will last and become the classics we all go back to over and over and the rest will give pleasure for the moment.The commentor sounds a lot like a writer upset that his work isn't being read very much.

  8. pinklea says:

    As a teacher, I have often had parents moaning to me that all their kid wants to read is graphic novels (boys) or the Twatlight – oh, sorry – TWIlight series (girls). They want the kid to read better, "real" books. I say, at least the kid is reading. They will probably get bored with or grow out of these types of books on their own. Or not, as you so eloquently point out!

  9. geewits says:

    I have a sociological explanation for why people want to read the same stuff: In the old days there were few TV channels and few "big new novels" so people had shared experiences. With the explosion of so much media in the last 20 years people started to feel disconnected and began reading or watching THE LATEST….! just so they could discuss things with people. If critics have a problem with that, so what? I guess they do not understand sociology. I purposely make a point to "stay on top of things" because it does enable you to make simple social connections. On a side note, since you are French, have you read my very favorite book in the whole world – The Count of Monte Cristo? In French I mean. I wonder if it's different.

  10. Jazz says:

    Mr. Jazz – :-)SAW – a) indeed, b)absolutely nothing.Jeaux – and I looove me the place for hand made jewelryGuillaume – You gotta find yourself a good second hand book shop with a bookseller who'll keep a lookout for what you want.BB – Nothing, NO. THING. beats a great murder mystery. Nope. Crime fiction seriously rocks. It's not medievil, but have you read Mankell, Kerr, Nesbo, Meyer…Bonnie – you know, you're right. It is sorta sad.Bandobras – LOL That could be…Pinklea – as long as they're reading… Me, I've just discovered graphic novels and there is some damn good stuff out there. The fact that it's graphic doesn't make it dreck though many people would like to think so.Geewits – Yep. I read it. In French. A rollicking good read. As was pretty much any Dumas book. I adored The Three Musketeers.

  11. XUP says:

    Just to take the other side for a moment, the problem with junk food for the mind is that it, like junk food food, makes people too lazy to bother with the good stuff. If a publishing house can make millions by churning out pap, why would they want to publish something that's good but not sensationalistic enough to make it a bestseller? Because yes, while they might still be running the odd Eastern philosopher or two, an actually literary novel just can't get published anymore. Look what's happened to our food. A demand is created and then filled until there is very little quality food left. Even our produce is no longer actually produce – just genetically modified to be big and never spoil foodlike products. The same thing happens with literature, TV, movies, music. No one cares about quality.

  12. Warty Mammal says:

    Nicely said.Sometimes I feel like a nice challenging, thought-provoking read and sometimes I don't. It's wonderful that there's reading material available for both situations.

  13. mrwriteon says:

    Snobbery, even in noble guise, remains snobbery. The Romantic poets were rock stars of their age, and people couldn't wait for the next installments of the serialized Dickens and Conan Doyle. Again, at least people are reading and that speaks well of them in an ostenibly post-literate era. But, vampire chic is really making me nauseous by this point.Otherwise, good on you, sweetie-pie.

  14. I Wonder Wye says:

    Good post and I totally agree – with all of it. (They don't call them Ugg for nothing, haha). Keep reading!

  15. Pouty Lips says:

    I agree. I still don't get the fascination with everything vampire, or the Ugg boots.

  16. Cynjon says:

    Ohhh, cultural snobbery, how I love thee. Nothing can get my ire worked up in a flash like someone saying "I don't read….fiction."(you have to emphasize the "fiction" part for full effect.)You already know my feelings on Twilight, but those are based off of things other than the books themselves.

  17. Gnightgirl says:

    I agree with all of your sentiments in this post. Funny how "experts" box themselves in, sometimes, with their own knowledge and snobbery. Sidenote on Uggs, which are not only ugly, but expensive-igly, I have a male friend that hates them with a passion, because, as he says, "they give every woman that wears them cankles!"

  18. Hagelrat says:

    Ok yeah, people are reading and that is good regardless of what, but and I can't help it I have to say it, Twilight is dreadful brain rot. It's easy to read no doubt but it left a bad taste in my brain.

  19. lime says:

    i'm somehwere in the middle. i tend nto to read many bestsellers mainly because i am nto a big fan of fiction. i love memoirs but usually of people not on best seller lists. i just have weird taste. i did churn through the twilight series because my daughter asked me to. can't say i much enjoyed it, but as you said, reading is the important thing. as for that ahndwirting post below i like it. i may join in even if i am a bit late.

  20. Jocelyn says:

    Thank you for this. It seems popular–as popular as a Dan Brown novel–to write death knell critiques of reading. Yet between you and me (and Oprah), honey, we're keeping the industry afloat. I read books I've seen reviewed; I read books I've never heard of but stumble across; I read books currently promoted as bestsellers. So why is someone daring to bitch about what I'm reading?

  21. choochoo says:

    sheesh, now I got distracted by the thought of going to the bookstore later and I forgot what I was going to say…

  22. Jazz says:

    XUP – A dissenting voice is always good.WM – these days I'm pretty much on the non challenging front.Ian – Vampire chic… I like the term!IWW – Welcome to my blog, and I'll never ever stop reading. Can't be done.Pouty – Ugg boots, especially in your area seem useless. And yet, you still see them.Cynjon – I can just hear the "fiction"…Gnightgirl – tell your friend I laughed out loud at the cankle reference.Toasty – Brain rot Twilight might be, but if a few teenagers start reading other stuff because of it, it's worth having to suffer through the hysteria.Lime – please join the handwriting challenge. You're not late, several people said they'd do it but no one has yet…Jocelyn – Sometimes I think we were separated at birth.Choo – Off you go to the bookstore then.

  23. Suldog says:

    Agreed, wholeheartedly. Just because something is popular, that doesn't make it bad – or good, for that matter.So few people think for themselves, you know? They take some sort of pre-set criteria – popularity, age, weight, skin color, whatever – and apply it to something and that's the end of what passes for thought for them. It's sad.

  24. alison says:

    Chiming in late to agree with you, Jazz. Who gets to decide what is crap and what isn't??? It is very elitist, imo, to castigate people for reading what makes them happy and entertained. I tried to read the Twilight book and didn't like it much. Not my cup of tea. But I imagine that Ian Rankin, whose Rebus crime novels I ADORE aren't everyone's cup of tea either. To each his/her own.

  25. e says:

    Great post! This is my first visit to your blog, and as a librarian and writer, I say let people read as they will because at least they're reading and not watching an idiot box. As you point out, and from personal experience, I know that seeing an adaptation of a play on film is not the same as reading the original, but doing so can spark the imagination and lead back to the original, at least for some of us.

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