Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: book rambling, book reviews, books, pop literature, popular literature
Disclaimer: This was meant to be the first post in a series of rambles on popular literature. One bright, sunny morning while walking home from the library these ideas flitted into my head but perversely enough most of them had flitted out before I was anywhere near a pen and paper let alone my laptop. I suppose what follows is more an aftertaste of some of the ideas I had flitting around than anything.
Often (though I admit I can’t recall ever seeing this on the book blogs I’m linked to) I’ve read that people were disappointed with a book because they felt as if they could not identify with the characters. This always was particularly odd for me because I honestly don’t care whether or not I identify with the characters – it’s not really something I’m too concerned with. This was also one of the reasons I didn’t care so much for Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird because she says in the book (and this could simply have been a paragraph I was irritated enough by that it infiltrated the remainder of the book) that this should be the creative writer’s goal. That the creative writer should write characters the audience can identify with, which I can’t buy even if I only consider one of my favorite books is Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning, which has a lot of despicable characters throughout it and it’s pretty damn difficult at parts not to be completely dismissive of one of the main characters.
But I wonder how much of the attraction to popular literature is a result of having characters that are easy for the general reading public (keeping in mind race, color, privilege, etc.) to identify with. So much popular literature, and I’m looking at so called “chick lit” here (a term I am frankly disgusted with because it has become such a label that is stuck to seemingly anything written or read by women), really focuses on socially accepted norms. Falling in love, getting married, having children, acquiring a job you love, of course always with a slight hiccup and many newer books seem to be going after sex and romance a bit more than the child bearing. But they are books that in many ways outline what is often the pre-conceived notion of the reading woman’s life.
Granted, I am making immense generalizations here. I have only just begun dallying in popular literature and I am sure more advanced aficionados can toss out many titles that would point out flaws in my ramblings. Also, as far as I am statistically aware a pretty huge hunk of readers seem to be statistically white, middle class, perhaps college educated but at least high school graduate, women with body issues – or at least this seems to fair relatively true in the United Sates of America.
Popular literature, and whether this is done with or without intent, targets this group. Or at least publishers do. I don’t know if authors sit down and think, “Hmm, what will sell best?” and truly I hope they don’t. But if a writer is writing of their life, and if the above paragraph pretty much describes their life, I suppose it’s somewhat inescapable. But it can be quite difficult to find characters that break out of this mold. I mean, if popular fiction does attempt to largely gratify the previously mentioned reading audience what happens when the above does not describe you?
So then I suppose much of my problem with popular literature – going with the idea that there is a need for identification – is that I don’t identify with it.