Monday, July 04, 2005

FictionDB and Literary Works

We are often asked if we include literary fiction on FictionDB. The answer is a somewhat emphatic "NO". You will find a few sprinkled throughout the database, but we have made no effort to include them.

I was at a book sale recently -- one of those where you wait in line for 3 hours before it opens. I stood next to a college English professor and eventually the subject came around to what we read. She, of course, was appalled by my choice of reading. I proudly read romance novels. She then went down the track of "well maybe you should read some really GOOD books, like ...." This always infuriates me and I am nothing if not opinionated and vocal about it. I am of the opinion that if you have to read a book about the book just to understand what the author is really trying to say, reading the "classic" work is a waste of time. Horrors!! Every high school English teacher's worst nightmare! To me reading is reading and any kind of reading is a good thing. I'm still thinking of going on Jeopardy and seeing how well I can do with my "romance novel" education.

My hairdresser is taking an English class right now. You know, the kind where you have to write a five paragraph paper on the book you just read. This always struck me as an odd idea. How am I to be graded? On the quality of my writing or on the content? I believe it always comes down to the quality of writing because how can someone else tell me what I got out of something I read? All the scholars in the world still can't tell you what someone who has been dead for 400 years really meant. Well, they think they can, but I still disagree.

When I was an undergrad business major, I took several upper-division history classes because I love history. What I learned in a hurry was that I wasn't being graded on my knowledge of history, I was being graded on the quality of my writing. Since I am not a great writer, my grades suffered and I stopped taking the classes. Unfortunately, GPA mattered to the companies I was looking at as potential employers.

This was so strange to me. In the English class, I was told I was being graded on the content of something that was fuzzy at best -- my interpretation of a novel. And in the history class, I wasn't being graded on history but my writing skills.

It was right about this time that my aversion to literary works crystallized. I rebelled against the academic community and their definition of quality literature. In general, if a book is released as a trade paperback -- the industry term for quality paperbacks -- I won't read it. I've found that I just don't enjoy those sorts of plots, characterizations, etc. There are plenty of websites out there who specialize in this sort of fiction, but we're not one of them.

I recently returned from Book Expo America where the publishers are promoting their upcoming releases. Genre fiction is not well-represented at BEA, but a few sneak through. Tess Gerritsen wrote a wonderful blog article on her experiences at BEA with the literary book-of-the-moment.

I am firmly of the opinion that everyone should read what they like. If you like to read literary fiction, great! If you like horror, great! Just don't tell me what I SHOULD be reading. I don't read to admire great prose. I read to be entertained.

And so I delcare my independence!

Happy 4th of July!


Cheryl said...

I completely agree with you, even though I am/was one of the English teachers. For years I felt so guilty that I didn't enjoy reading the classics! I've been reading romance novels for over 35 years now. My attorney daughter, also a romance reader, was helping her attorney husband prepare for an test to enter graduate school; he said how do you know all of these words? Her reply: romance novels!
I will agree not all romance novels are equal, but the majority are well-written, with extensive higher level vocabulary.

Don J. Spoon said...

I have tried to read some of the classics of several genres I like and have found them boring. So I have a rule that if the book is classified as a classic or literary grade I don't read. Saved a lot of time since I finally put this plan into action.

FictionDB said...

After adding all categories of fiction to FictionDB, I went back to find this post. I guess you really never should say NEVER since FictionDB now does contain literary works. It doesn't mean I have to read them, though!