There has been much talk lately about the literary merits of certain authors. Most of it has been sparked by the recent release of Dan Brown’s latest THE LOST SYMBOL but has also been in connection with James Patterson’s 17 book deal with Hachette. Will they have any quality or value whatsoever? Do any of his other books?

This is actually an ongoing conversation and argument. Some seriously question the intelligence of our society when they are so willing to spend their hard earned money on such, dare we say, “trash.” Other people’s words, not mine. (Agent Nathan Bransford has qualms about using quotations for emphasis.) How did these people get published? And after they got published how on earth did they convince the masses that their books were actually good?

I’m going to make a comparison of books to food. (Can she do that?) Yes I can. (Should she?) I don’t know, but I’m gonna.

We have a variety of food in our markets. Some are full of vitamins and minerals, fiber and protein. Combined and prepared in the right way these foods make for some truly satisfying meals that not only taste good but makes us feel good, live longer, fight disease, and think more clearly.

There are also foods in our markets that are full of saturated fats, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, chemicals, additives, artificial flavoring and who knows what tetrasodium pyrophosphate actually is? It’s in my marshmallows. When I eat them I can feel my arteries clogging and my heart hurts.

It doesn’t take rocket science to know it’s not good for us. We know we should not eat junk food often if ever, but it tastes good. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol and I’ve never done drugs but apparently they offer some desired effect or people wouldn’t consume them.

Likewise, the books on our shelves do not have equal literary merit. I would never give TWILIGHT the same kudos I give TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. In fact I would not even compare them. The latter is a time-honored classic, a literary masterpiece, a social criticism, while the former is, at best, entertainment. That’s all. Even Stephenie Meyer doesn’t proclaim to be anything more than a storyteller.

In short, some stories sell because they create a high and they’re addictive. Should we read them all the time? No. Like food I think the bulk of our literary nutrition should contain the very best. Deep, enriching, thought provoking books. The exciting entertainment should be consumed as much as the FDA recommends we consume a candy bar. Sparingly, if ever. But there is absolutely no reason to tear apart authors who provide exciting entertainment, an experience that takes us away from our day to day drudgery. Could the writing be better? Sure. But it is what it is. Our intelligence doesn’t have to be lowered for liking the Twinkie, as long as we recognize that it’s not an apple.

I realize that in the greater literary community my opinion matters little, if anything at all, but as my good friend Marilyn always says, “everyone’s entitled to my opinion.”

That said, what’s your opinion? Do you read popular books behind a newspaper? Or do you think they should have no place on our shelves?


3 comments

  1. It’s a hard question. I think everyone needs a little sugar now and again. But I have to tell you, I have heard Harry Potter and Twilight both referred to as literary junk food, and personally, if they are both in the junk food category, Twilight is the Twinkie, and Harry Potter is freshly made pico de gayo served with gourmet tortilla chips!

    • Liesl

    • September 28, 2009

    • 2:00 am

    I completely agree with that assessment Rachel.

  2. I just finished Patterson’s “6th Target”, co-authored with Maxine Paetro. I’ve liked other Patterson mysteries as entertaining quick reads. His 17-book deal will likely involve more co-authored books to meet production deadlines and I know I’ll be hesitant to pick them up based on my reaction to this one. It has multiple storylines, all interesting in themselves, but they were like three separate short stories, erratically chopped up and interwoven to create a novel-length book. There was nothing to bind them together even at the end. To add to your analogy, I didn’t find any nourishment in the snacking. I agree with you that not everything we read needs to represent literary genius, but IMHO to be satisfying it still needs to be reasonably well crafted.

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