Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Why Do You Read That Crap?

I heard a story again the other day that reminded me of many personal experiences. Someone asked another person how anyone could read “that” kind of book. In this case, the book was a romance, but you could easily replace romance with SF, Fantasy, Horror, Westerns, or probably just about any genre book. The questioner continued with something like: “If you’re going to read, why not read non-fiction? Why not try to learn something?”

I used to get angry when people said these kinds of things, particularly when they said them to me. But that was when I was a kid. I don’t get angry anymore, because I just see it as a kind of uninformed provincialism. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I’ve never had anyone ask me that question who had as a big a vocabulary as I have. And despite the fact that I’ve always read and continue to read genre fiction, I managed to get a Ph.D., advance to full professorship in an academic job, and publish plenty of non-fiction myself.

And I didn’t get my vocabulary from reading non-fiction. I got it as a kid reading SF and Fantasy. I didn’t get my ability to “think outside the box” from non-fiction, nor from the classroom. I got it from reading genre fiction. Without my fiction reading habit I don’t believe I’d ever have graduated college, much less gone on. I certainly would never have discovered that the best way to reach students and teach them something is to tell them a “story.” I would never have been able to teach students how to write, a skill that sp many people desperately need.

People can learn in all kinds of ways and from all kinds of activities. And learning is not just a collection of facts. Certainly, having information is important, but being able to translate one’s thoughts and ideas into words is critical. Being able to make sense of the world is critical. Being able to see the world from a variety of perspectives is critical. Fiction teaches these things. It’s important and should not be discouraged.

Let the kids read. Let them read whatever they can get their hands on. Let them open their minds to thoughts that come from places other than their TVs. Let them learn.

You want to know the worst part of it? The person who asked that question in my first paragraph about why folks didn’t read something they could learn from... That person was a librarian. (Certainly not my lovely Lana, of course, who is a librarian herself and an extraordinary one.)


Lisa said...

I'm always irritated at ignorant statements like that. My stepson and I came together under the same roof when he was 11 and at that time, he hadn't developed a love for reading. I credit Terry Brooks and the Shannara series for instilling that love in him. I bribed him to read by giving him a bedtime that he could extend if he wanted to stay up and read, promising him that if he read books, I'd always buy him more to read and I took him to a book signing so he could meet TB, which thrilled him. He has since developed a much wider range of reading likes, but it started there.

I have been accused of having "weird" taste in books and movies many times over the years and I just shrug it off.

Although my taste runs more toward what I guess people would consider literary fiction (and of course some non-fiction) and I admit that with the exception of some thrillers, horror, mysteries and a limited number of sci-fi and fantasy novels, I don't care for romance, westerns, most women's fiction, chick-lit and most sci-fi and fantasy. It's not a value judgment, they're just not my thing and I wouldn't "diss" what someone chooses to read any more than I would their taste in music, artwork, interior decorating or beer. Most of us do have very specific likes. I don't think I've ever met anyone who likes everything.

evildm said...

While I'm not a full on believer or advocator of the supernatural or other phenomenon. I think that my love of genre reading has helped me better embrace the possibility of the unknown.
If and when the little green men come to earth to visit folks who read genre fiction will most likely be the first to greet them, and if need be, fight them. While everyone else is running for the hills in a panic.

Travis Cody said...

Sometimes I just pick up a book and it does so many things for me, regardless of the genre. I might learn something and be entertained and have my imagination stimulated, all at the same time by the same book. And that book might be fiction or non-fiction, classic literature or pulp, a best seller or a comic book.

To look down at a person's book choices is awfully narrow minded.

Randy Johnson said...

People can definitely learn from reading genre fiction. I have a friend of thirty-five years who's a perfect example.
When he married my cousin all those yeas ago, he was in the army, didn't like to read, had been pushed along in school until he was old enough to drop out.
But he liked to watch the original Star Trek. That's when I got a little sneaky. I gave him some of the Bantam ST paperbacks and said, "Here's some stories you haven't seen."
It's now thirty-five years later and my friend got his GED, went on to college, found, and cultivated his own favorite authors; a lot of them different from my own.
I also tried to get him to read Dune for years and he was a little put off by the length. Then the saw the David Lynch film and immediately jumped into the book; actually all six one right after the other. He was incensed about how badlt they'd treated to novel in the film.
My friend is the one I hold up when I hear such comments as you mentioned.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, I come about the closest of anyone I know to liking just about anything written. I've read relatively few romances and I'm not real big on straight mysteries, but I've read quite a few of both of those. I go through phases where I'll read three or four or so in a particular genre, then switch to another. Right now I'm reading mostly fantasy but it'll be different next week.

The Evil DM, thanks for stopping by. Tarzan at the EArth's Core is a good one. I see "The Mad King" on your collage as well. I much enjoyed that one.

Lana, no I agree with you.

Travis, I don't get it either. I do sometimes wonder at folks who read "only" one narrow genre, but, like you, I've learned a lot from, and enjoyed, a wide variety of different books.

Randy Johnson, good for your friend. And good for you for introducing him to worlds he might never have found otherwise. I always talk up reading in my classes, knowing that good readers have all kinds of advantages in classes.

steve on the slow train said...

Charles, I read a lot of non-fiction and learn a great deal from it. But I learned more about West Africa from reading the Doctor Quarshie mysteries by John Wyllie than any nonfiction I've read on the subject.

It's unfortunate that such literary snobbery persists. I was in a writing group with a husband-and-wife team of romance writers, and was impressed by their writing. It was a genre I dismissed until I read some of their books, and learned something about the Indiana-Michigan area where I lived. Amen to "Let the kids read."

Steve Malley said...

I have a friend doesn't understand why people read books at all-- his way of looking at it, articles on every nonfiction subject possible are available on the internet and every worthwhile book gets made into a movie.

Preferably with explosions.


the walking man said...

Stan Lee to Dostoevsky. If you never at least touch on, in some way, all styles & genres then the education is incomplete.

A comment like that...'how can you read such and such' is usually from a person who does not see the value in all combinations of words or the thought that goes into them by the writer...yes even in pulp Romance novels.

Personally I like to think that I have read a bit of everything, found what I liked and throughly explored that genre.

Having read non stop from the age of 4 to just a few years ago, sometimes 2 & 3 books at at time. *shrug* enough. I learned to dissect and interpret the author, yes even romance authors, in the variety I found a way to communicate in my own voice. Thus all genres, fiction and non-fiction alike are a worthy read.


Randy Johnson said...

The one comment I've heard more than once and it bothers me every time is, upon seeing my collection of books, I've had people say, "I haven't read a book since I got out of school." They say it almost proudly.
All I can do is shake my head.

Randy Johnson said...

Last night, at a family function, my nephew asked an innocent question. "Do you have any of the Conan books?"
He plays The Age of Conan online. I'm going to break him in right. I"m going to lay three books on him(The Coming of Conan, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The conquering Sword of Conan) so that he can get the real thing before he tries any of the pastiches.

Bernita said...

When you mention vocabulary I immediately think of Lovecraft!
Have always thought there was more philosophical discussion of good and evil in fantasy than anywhere else.
"Let the kids read. Let them read whatever they can get their hands on." - firmly agree.

Greg said...

well said, Charles! I couldn't agree more.

laughingwolf said...

ignorance is not confined just to the illiterate... i've known folk with little to no formal 'schooling' who've put degree-holders to shame by their knowledge of life

very well said, charles

ivan said...

Ah well.

I've never been to Oxford, but I have been taught by some Oxbridge runaways, and they used to say, sometimes the information is right on the surface, and sometimes it is not, and it's up to you to provide the "aha".
With fiction, it seems a natural inclination towards poetry. You sort of get it straight off.

Heff said...

I agree. Doesn't really matter WHAT you read, you're going to learn something, and expand your mind either way. Now if you'll excuse me, I was in the middle of a Danielle Steel classic....

William Jones said...

I agree. Reading anything helps. And the genres have always been frowned upon. Many times I've heard people tell me: I only read non-fiction (although it can be argued that non-fiction is a bit of fiction and fact told from a point of view, as anyone can write a non-fiction work countering a non-fiction work.

It has been my experience that when a person starts reading fiction, he or she moves into various areas of reading. Sometimes a person has an genre(s) and sticks with it. But I can't say that it has ever been a problem. And I'm still waiting for the someone to say: I only read fiction - I don't have time for that other stuff. :)

Gabby said...

While my particular genre of choice is Fantasy, my favorite novel is Pride and Prejudice. I'm willing to give anything a chance, really, as long as it grabs my attention (with either story or language -- not long ago I read The Thirteenth Tale, and the language the author used was beautiful and magical). I love to read, and it saddens me that, for the most part, my nieces and nephews have yet to really understand the joy in it (although I think my oldest niece is starting to get it). At Christmas I have all of them books, and my oldest nephew (13) asked me what this was. He got that it was a book, but why had I given him one (he wanted video games instead). I told him to give it a chance (it was a Newberry(sp?) award winner after all. Last I heard he had sort of started it. Ah, well. I try.

Danny Tagalog said...

Nobody likes these ignoramuses, but their minds will remain that way, so just laugh at them. Teaching Japanese students who have so many distractions - TV mobile phones, poratble games, etc - they need as much encouragement as they can get.

"Let the kids read. Let them read whatever they can get their hands on. Let them open their minds to thoughts that come from places other than their TVs. Let them learn. "

I like this 'mantra' - I also like the reminder that stories are often the best way to convey a message. Tell that to the Japanese Ministry of Education who shovel facts down the poor kids throats.

But then again, the smart ones are the ones who educate themselves.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

It is ignorance. I have people laugh at me when they see me reading a YA or MG book because they think it is funny to see a grown up reading something written for kids. But I love these stories and why should I care what others think? And besides, the ones that laugh are always those who don't read a book ever.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I agree with you completely! I hate it when someone questions my taste in reading. You can learn from everything, particularly genre work. I loved horror fiction as a kid and learned more about how to tell a story (a skill I need in both fiction and non-fiction) from that work than anything else. And have enjoyed great campy fiction like Valley of the Dolls and Peyton Place far more than I had any right. There's no telling what will pull you in -- I think whatever gets a person to read is fantastic.

SQT said...

If there is anything my mom did right it's that she figured reading anything was better than not reading anything at all. She used to buy us comic books and that started me down a long road of fantasy and sci-fi that I know hugely helped me in school. My non-fiction-only friends had a much harder time getting through English classes-- or any class- that required a fairly extensive vocabulary.

Whenever I hear someone say, oh I don't read fiction, I only read stuff I can learn from I shake my head. They really haven't learned anything.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, a lot of comments today. I'm going to break my response into two sections so if you don't see a comment to yours here, look in the one below.

Steve, I used to feel much the same way as you did about romance novels, but, like you, I read some and found that, like all fiction, some are not very good and some are very good indeed. Good reads can be found all over.

Steve Malley, not much you can say to that. If someone doesn't read books but only watches movies it's hard to explain to them the good stuff they're missing.

Mark, like you, I've always been able to find material in every genre of interest to me. A couple of years back I learned a whole lot about herbs from reading a historical romance by a lady named Rexanne Becnel. I still use that stuff today.

Randy Johnson, when I was young my brother used to say rather proudly about how he hadn't read a book since college, but now he actually reads quite a bit and collects old books. That sense of pride in "not reading" always amazed me too. Good selection on the Conan stories. I rather envy your nephew the experience. Reading those stories for the first time was fantastic, but back in the day when I first did it they were often half pastiche.

Bernita, oh yes, Lovecraft had a vocabulary and a half, and so did his Texas correspondent Robert E. Howard.

Greg Schwartz, thanks, my friend.

Laughingwolf, yes indeed. I've known people who've gotten haughty because of their degrees and feel like they can't learn from anyone. We can learn from everyone and everything. Perhaps even from movies, although I'm resistant to that myself ;)

Tyhitia Green said...

Richard Matheson and Tananarive Due have a excellent vocabularies, and I've learned a lot since I first began reading Poe in 9th grade. Excellent post, Charles. :*)

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm breaking my response into two sections so if you don't see a comment to yours here, look in the one above.

Ivan, that was a good message.

Heff, I figured you for a Motley Crue "The Dirt" kind of guy.

William Jones, you're right, non-fiction ain't necessarily non-fiction, as we've learned of late. I'd love to hear somebody say they only read fiction and don't have time for the other stuff. Lol. I'd buy that person a beer.

Gabby, I remember telling my son that I'd buy him any book he wanted or as many as he wanted, but he didn't want very many. I think to myself how much of a gift that would have been for me! I would have broken my parents' bank account for sure.

Danny, you said it when you said the smart ones educate themselves. I think that's always been true, although smart ones can take advantage of the educational system if given a chance. Stories stay with people.

Ello, I get a laugh when I'm reading a YA book and someone makes a comment too. I usually think of various ways I could make them look like idiots but I refrain. I'm a nice guy after all.

Michelle, I have an academic friend who loved Peyton Place so much she essentially made a career out of that book and it's author. The great thing about our culture is that people can have the chance to pursue a passion and discover incredible insights from things that others see no worth in.

SQT, since I had such a fiction habit as a kid I had much the same experience when I went to college. My friends who scarcely read would be fighting, struggling trying to understand their texts while I breezed through and made better grades. I even told a few of them when they sort of half growled at me/ half admired me, that "well, if you'd crack a book outside of class sometime you might find out."

Charles Gramlich said...

Demon hunter, you must have posted while I was making my comments. I've certainly read a lot of Matheson but not Due. I'm going to check out the books you mentioned on your blog by her.

Furtheron said...

what is the point of having a brain with the capacity for imagination and visualisation of the abstract if you don't feed it with stuff to use that?

At a loss!

I think seeing people read is a great thing, I don't care what, I have my choices, historic novels, thillers, satire etc. don't bother me just let em read!

Travis Erwin said...

Are you sure weren't not long lost brothers? We sure seem to have shared a lot of experiences and look at books in much the same way.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I agree with your comments. People who don't read for entertainment (as well as 'education') are definitely missing out. I feel sorry for them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Further on up the Road, I agree. The thing that has kept me from ever being truly bored in my life is my imagination, and I feed it well to keep it happy.

Travis Erwin, well, I'm certainly the weirdeset one in my family so there is the possiblity of me being adopted to consider.

Paul, yes, and sometimes education and entertainment can be found in the same book.

laughingwolf said...

lol... i've learned a thing or two from flicks, mostly in the making of ;) hahahahahahahaha

cs harris said...

My fifth grade teacher complained to my mother that all I read was dog and horse stories. My mom said, "I don't think she'll still be reading dog and horse stories when she grows up. The important thing is that she's learned to love reading." The teacher disagreed. I suspect teachers like that have a lot to answer for.

Anndi said...

Well said!

My daughter has fast become a book monster. She wakes up and reads in bed and reads as much as she can before I come into her room to ask her to get ready for school. She often heads to her room with a book in the evening, or during the weekend, totally immersing herself in strange new worlds.

The joy she gets from reading is the most wonderful thing. It's a tremendous boost to her already hyperactive imagination.

The point is, she's reading. It opens up exciting new worlds and I'm not about to close any of them.

Thnank you for expressing so eloquently these thoughts and feelings so many of us share.

Shauna Roberts said...

I'm a coward. I've had my reading tastes put down often enough I usually don't mention them.

My aunt was a librarian and romance writer and plied my siblings and me with books at birthdays and Christmases and sometimes in-between. I'm the only one with whom reading "took." I now do as my aunt did and give books to my nieces and nephews. I'm proud to say that at least four of the seven are readers and one has completed the first draft of a novel.

Heff said...

Has "The Dirt" even been released yet ? I know they've been working on that for YEARS. Yeah, I'm not much of a reader. Pretty obvious, lol !

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, I've picked up some good dialogue from flicks.

Candy, that's just awful. For a teacher to say such a thing. How ignorent.

Anndi, great for your daughter. I'm very glad to hear that. It is a wonderful boon to the imagination.

Shauna, kudos to you for passing on the love of reading. As for mentioning my reading habits, I have a slight tendency to rub them in non-reader's faces. But I can be an ass at times.

Heff, you may be thinking of the movie version. They are supposed to make a movie of "The Dirt" but the book itself has been out since 2001. It's very good. I also read "TommyLand" by Tommy Lee but it's not nearly as good. I recently read a book by a British guy called "Hell Bent for Leather," which is interesting for it's stuff on the British heavy metal scene. Another good book is by Lemmy, called "White Line Fever."

FANCY said...

Reading a book or the book or just that book is so stimulating - relaxing - "fantasy working" - escaping reality or staying in the reality...they who don't read book is missing something and the most sad thing about it is that they don't know it ;-)

Chris Eldin said...

A librarian?! That's depressing.

Do you go on the FreeRice site and take the vocab quizzes? They're addictive.... (I seriously need work in that area)

Charles Gramlich said...

Fancy, yes, I always have a book with me. It's a comfort.

Chris Eldin, very depressing that it was a librarian. CS's "teacher" is even worse. I have done the vocab quizzes on Free Rice. A lot of fun. I should do it more often because it really is true, "use it or lose it"

writtenwyrdd said...

Preaching to the choir,my friend. Any reading is good reading, be it comic books, the bible, genre fiction or mein kamph. Reading broadens the mind adn opens it to new ideas.

Mike said...

As a college librarian I can't fathom why any one os "us" would criticize anothers choice of literature. Heck I grew up on Tom Swift Jr, comics and Conan/Doc Savage paperbacks.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writtenwyrd, exactly. Reading helps with so many things.

Joe Blow, I agree. I worked as a floor supervisor in the University of Arkansas library when I was in grad school and I just have a hard time imagining a librarian putting down reading of any kind. It's especially bad when we are betrayed by our own kind. I'm a big Howard fan as well. You should check out the REHupa site sometime, if you haven't already. It's in my top set of links.

Sarai said...

I hate when people say that especially about romance. I read it A LOT most of the time i read to escape the depressing, closed minded, and drama filled "real" world. However, I went to college I have 2 degrees I also read a lot of non-fiction in psychology and history both of which I love.
So I read romance, sci-fi and fantasy at least I read.
My typical response is I read 13 or so books last month alone how many did you read?
Nuff said *g*

Heff said...

Thanks Charles. Seeing as that would be about the only type of krap I'd be interested enough in to read, I'll check 'em out.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sarai, grins about the 13 books. Sounds like something I might say.

Heff, you know you can drink and read at the same time. What could be better than sitting out on the deck with a corona and book by Lemmy? Well, there could be some things better but that's pretty good.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Books good. Stories better. *grunt* Must have coffee. Must have beer. Must read. Must read. Must. Read.....

Farrah Rochon said...

I can attest to learning from your "stories". It is the perfect way to get the information across.

I try not to let those digs at genre fiction get to me, but must admit they still do.