Sunday, March 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Pride of the English Major

So, I'm reading a book. I won't tell you what it is, because I'm ashamed to be reading it.

I love books. I love them so much that I spent 6 years of my post-high school education on them. However, because from a degree standpoint I would be considered a semi-expert in books, it gives me pause to admit to reading what would be considered "popular literature" (roughly translated, bestsellers).

This is kind of ridiculous. I mean, Charles Dickens was pop lit. So was Harper Lee and Gabriel García Márquez. Achebe, Heller, Morrison...just because a book sells a lot of copies and is widely read doesn't make it bad writing. In fact, this is the same argument that I have with my friends in Las Vegas all the time about music.

And speaking of music, despite the fact that I was at some point an actual musician, and have an equally great love for it, I have no problem admitting my like of Britney Spears, Beyonce, Coldplay, or Weezer. I am comfortable acknowledging the space for pop music in the universe - those songs are catchy for a reason. (Although when I bought a Backstreet Boys album in Japan because I was dying for some mindless American pop music, I sandwiched it among three Belle and Sebastian albums, so maybe I'm not as comfortable as I thought).

However, I can't seem to harbor the same confidence for books. I ridiculed Harry Potter my entire senior year of college (choice phrases were, "what the hell are these ADULTS doing reading some stupid CHILDREN'S book?"). And yet, during the beginning of my year living in Japan, I bought all four Harry Potter books that had been published and devoured them; my initial, sheepish excuse was that I was starved for something easy to read in English because I was exhausted from having to communicate in Japanese all the time. As the years went on, however, I stopped being so embarrassed and began to actually read subsequent books in the series in broad daylight.

So why does the thought of admitting what I'm reading now fill me with mortification? Why can't I come to terms with the space that popular literature fills in the universe the same way I do for music? Maybe because I take writing so much more seriously than music since I spent so many years studying it (I feel like I should know what makes good literature), whereas I never formally studied music, and so have less of an understanding of what classifies quality there.

The thing is, I really LIKE this book. However, not enough for me to read it in public. Sorry book; into the anonymous book cover you go.


Molly said...

Is it Twilight? ;) I refuse to read lots of books (like Twilight and the rest of the Harry Potter books). Not because I'm embarrassed of them, but because I NEVER read. I mean ever. It takes me like a year to finish a book. And for that reason I only pick up books that I think are going to be worth my very limited and precious reading time. I think if I were one of those people who read for hours each week, I wouldn't mind mixing fluff reading in there.

madichan said...

I won't say what it is!

Thinking more about this, I also feel it's because I spent so much time reading assigned texts that I didn't really get a chance to delve into stuff that was more light. Sometimes you need a break from analyzing metaphors and deconstruction.