Have you ever met someone who insisted, “I just don’t like to read”? This kind of thing blows my mind. Who doesn’t enjoy a good story once in a while?
In my opinion there is probably at least one of two problems at hand when someone says that reading isn’t fun:
- That person has only been introduced to school reading, which they believe must be boring on principle, and is often more “literary” than “genre.”
- That person may have difficulty visualizing what he or she sees in printed words.
I’ll probably address problem #2 another time. Today I’m thinking more about #1.
There are plenty of literary classics and short stories that have lots to offer in the way of entertainment and education. Some are happy, some are sad, some are serious, etc. I teach a handful of these, and I appreciate them. A few are even my favorites of all time.
For many of these titles, though, the Genre Factor is left a little cold. By this I mean that a non-reader who loves science fiction – eats up any movie about the future, watches every TV episode involving space, and has a wall covered in art depicting androids – often finds little to pique his or her interest in literature while taking a standard survey lit. class. The same goes for a fantasy fan or a mystery nut. There are a few stories here and there that break the mold, but they aren’t often the majority, and many professors choose to leave them out altogether. After all, “genre” fiction is just “trash” fiction, right?
I disagree. While I appreciate and enjoy the literary classics or mainstream stories that sometimes don’t fit into a specific genre, I also believe that they should be taught alongside quality genre fiction. This practice, I believe, may begin to dispel the incorrect assumption that all reading is dull.
In my own studies right now I’m taking two genre courses: Horror and Science Fiction. For one we’re starting with Matheson’s I Am Legend, and for the other we’re starting with Robinson’s Red Mars. Both are great reads for someone with my literary tastes.
Instead of wading through story after story that doesn’t appeal to me, I’m going to spend most of my time having fun. And, in addition to that, I’ll learn about the genres and how they have evolved over time due to various historical factors. I’ll analyze specific tropes (why do I hate this word?) that contribute to our fiction and our culture.
And, most importantly, I’ll be reading, and I’ll feel energized to read more because I enjoyed myself.
Now, I’m already a reader, so there’s no work required to persuade me to keep reading. But isn’t this exactly what many parents and educators say they want to do? Persuade kids and young adults to read more?
I say keep the literary fiction. A lot of it is great, and some readers will enjoy it most of all. But perhaps it’s a good idea to think beyond those titles as well. Throw in a little fantasy here, a little mystery there. Or perhaps give students a general sampling of everything and then let them choose which genre (or non-genre) to pursue for future readings.
My question here is this: what significant differences in quality do you see between genre fiction and literary fiction? Are those differences enough to discount the best sellers that students may love — and leave them out of general literature studies altogether?