In defence of reading for pleasure

In defence of reading for pleasure

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

In fiction, there is a serious case of classism. Multiple serious cases or classism actually, but I’m going to talk about one that pisses me off personally.

Just because a story isn’t dark and brooding, or doesn’t make you cry at the indignities of life, doesn’t mean that it should be held to different standards.

Fluff, Light, Dumb, Popcorn, Adventure, and Popular are all ways of describing things that are categorised as lesser in quality. As they are automatically lesser, they are then considered immune to certain criticism.

Let’s take Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s a nostalgia-driven love letter to the 80’s. So much so that the plot, politics, and characters are all 80’s stereotypes. That’s not a good thing. The plot is lazy, the characters hateful, the diversity forced and self-congratulatory. I’d go as far as saying the book isn’t just bad, it encourages a level of navel gazing and retro social politics that are toxic.

When discussing this book on panel The Nights at the Round Table, panelists gave it a pass because it was a Light Fun Cottage read. I am not attacking the panelists, they are wonderful people whom I care deeply for!

As consumers we’ve been told our entire lives that there are two classes of writing, the fluff and the serious. Over the years that has changed. Early examples of light fluffy reading is anything by Jane Austin, who is now considered a classic author (Deservedly so she’s fantastic). Shakespeare was the Michael Bay of his time.

#HoldFluffAccountable

Disclaimer: I am an Adventure writer. What I write is considered low-brow fluff even by the most adamant genre writers. I also read a great deal of what people call stupid fun (Urban Fantasy, Supernatural Horror, Genre YA, etc.) so obviously my opinion is skewed.

I hate that no matter how much thought I put into my writing, it will always be considered low-class and fluff. BUT I hate so much more that books and movies that fall into the same categories are immune to criticism and analysis unless they are extremely popular or extremely depressing.

You can read for pleasure and still be immensely touched and even enriched by any form of story. Books by Laura Resnick, Tanya Huff, Seanan Maguire, or Tamora Peirce have worlds as detailed and content a deep/meaningful as anything in hard Science-Fiction or epic Fantasy.

There are themes and stories inside superhero films that are just as dark or just as thought provoking as the latest drama/tragedy.

When you dismiss a story as not worthy of criticism, you are accepting that story’s flaws and normalizing its harm. It’s the popular fluff that will cause the most damage because it’s what more people read or watch. You must hold it accountable for its flaws and its mistakes.

There shouldn’t be two classes of story and you have the power to change that by holding them all accountable and by critically analyzing everything.

 

Later Days,

Éric

 

 

 

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11 thoughts on “In defence of reading for pleasure

  1. Oh, I totally agree. I did not enjoy Ready Player One, and I would have liked to have seen the writer do better. I would not recommend the book. And haven’t.

    I do try to find something good about a book I’m reviewing, though, and the best I could come up with was ‘some if it was fun.’ I tried to say as much in the panel discussion.

    I don’t think it was the genre that gave the book a pass. It was the nostalgia. People went mad for the nostalgia and forgot what good writing is.

    • It’s not just this book. I’ve heard a lot of people give movies or books a pass because they’re just action movies or fun reads.

      I also cringe every time you say that Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince is just a piece of silly fluff. You devalue your work (which is excellent and has some incredible themes touching on ethics, racism, and the nature of heroism.) and the work of people who write in a similar genre or style.

      • Thanks… I think.
        But I don’t equate silly fluff with bad. That’s a connection you’re making. Silly and fluffy, done well, is still silly and fluffy (The Reluctant Barbarian, for example). It means it’s a lighter read in the vein of comforting adventure stories you don’t have to think too hard about. A book can be that without being bad.
        Done poorly, it’s just crap. If I said Ethan was crap, I could understand better.
        I will try to be more careful with my wording in the future, though.

        • The issue I have is with people treating genres books and movies as lesser (not bad) because of calling them fluffy. Saying you don’t have to think too hard about something makes it sound like you’re not evaluating it the same way.

          Ethan is absolutely not crap.

          Maybe I’m just a little touchy because everything I write falls into the “Comforting adventure stories you don’t have to think too hard about” category and it feels like the equivalent to the snobbish argument of Fantasy vs Magical Realism.

          • I see where you’re coming from, and I think it’s related to the snobbery we’re subjected too all the time. The work, then, is to remove the stigma around it, rather than deny that a thing is what it is.

            Ethan is absolutely full of typical fantasy tropes and cliches, which makes it more comforting than challenging; it’s safe and familiar.

            We love fluffy blankets. I consider Ethan the literary equivalent of a fluffy blanket, which is why I describe it as such.

            The problem is not the description, but the stigma surrounding it, in my opinion. And that’s a harder problem to tackle.

            You can’t control what other people think. You can only write well, and hope that it’ll change their minds.

          • “You can’t control what other people think. You can only write well, and hope that it’ll change their minds.”
            Nope Nope Nope… I’m going to pout, stomp my feet, and rant on my blog.
            I will also continue to insist that people not dismiss flaws and mistakes simply because they think something is lesser. (I realize that will make me annoying but you should be used to it by now…)

          • I think stomping and ranting on your blog is a good idea. Talking about a problem is precisely what is needed to end it. Rant away!

            And yeah, thinking that because something is familiar and comforting (fluffy) is lesser is definitely wrong. Everything is should be subject to critical thought.

        • By saying something is silly and fluffy and that you don’t need to think about it; you’re saying it’s okay to forgive it’s flaws and lack of depth.
          We should be encouraged to think and analyze everything we consume. Again it could just be me being touchy at being on bottom of the cultural importance food chain.

          • No one is saying that. People routinely rip into things described as silly and fluffy for their laziness (see the NUMEROUS articles surrounding Ready Player One) when deserved.

            Saying something is comforting and familiar doesn’t preclude it from analysis or deep criticism, nor is it claiming it is unworthy of such.

  2. I feel you, brother. Life in the ‘Cosm is a space opera … with cake in it. But between the layers of fudge I also address homophobia, religious manipulation versus true faithfulness, living with a disability, and finding love instead of chasing fantasy.

    But it can’t be of much value because it’s not sciencey enough and it’s funny.

    Snobby attitudes against my work is what makes me grateful for publishers like Renaissance. They see the true vision of stories and don’t prejude.

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