I want to talk about something I call “Junk Food Literature”.
Wait, don’t leave; I’m serious, and its a good thing!
Have you ever in your life shunned a book for being “completely awful, and horribly written”, refused to read a book because it was “beneath your level”, or read a book in secret because other people had a negative opinion of it? Congratulations, you’ve experienced Junk Food Literature.
Just like junk food, it’s not always the best thing, but there is something satisfying about it. Delicious potato chips, fizzy bittersweet soda, that luscious chocolate candy bar, the siren song of a greasy burger loaded with ‘secret sauce’ and melty cheese… Sometimes we can’t resist, and it’s OK–life can’t be kale and cauliflower salads all the time!
When you boil it down to basics, we tend to sort books into two categories: “enlightening” and “drivel”. It’s the same manner in which we separate “healthy food” and “junk food”. Junk Food Literature usually falls into the “drivel” category by most standards, but what people don’t realize is that it has its place! People’s book interests are as diverse as the difference between the person who eats all Paleo, and the person who eats nothing but fast food. Sometimes the reasons are the same–maybe Paleo Guy has time to sit down and enjoy a dry non-fiction novel, while Fast Food Girl only has time to read something short, and happens to like vampire romance.
But then, Fast Food Girl might go on vacation, eat completely vegetarian local fare, and pick up a memoir to peruse at the beach. Meanwhile Paleo Guy decides he’s really in the mood for sugary lemon bars and a quick murder mystery while hanging out at a coffee shop downtown.
We judge people based on what they read. [or don’t read] Hell, we judge people based on everything! Things are never as clear cut as we want them to be, and while we’re evolved enough to know we shouldn’t do it, we’re also basic enough to still do it despite that. We’re told to not eat junk because its bad. Fat makes things taste better, and helps you process some vitamins, so butter and oils have their time and place. Conversely, spinach will sometimes sneak into your fruit smoothie; you’ll read something just for the hell of it, but come away with a revelation about life and people you never had before reading that book. I love when that happens. It’s like a little bonus. [Avocado on your burger? Hell yes!]
Enjoyment is what makes Junk Food Literature good–just as viable as standard literature–and why we need it so desperately. It often sweeps people up, becoming its own phenomenon and drawing people together through a shared experience. Even when a book is reviled, it still brings people together. Isn’t uniting people through words the cornerstone of all forms of storytelling? In a world where literacy rates aren’t at their best, should we really knock people for what they read? We should celebrate people reading for pleasure, even if it is a Paranormal Victorian Dinosaur Romance novella and your personal opinion is that it should be set on fire.
Junk Food Literature is a fun romp, sometimes inexplicably popular–and yes, often not written as well as it could be. Reading it won’t make you stupid, just like slogging through one of the literary classics won’t make you smart, or occasionally having some chips or a slice of cake won’t immediately make you unhealthy. Reading should be a pleasure–not a chore or a form of stress.
Lemon bars, anyone?