The Appeal to the Masses

Kim’s review does hit on something troublesome….this unpleasant event where, for all intents and purposes, the educated reader has her intelligence insulted by a book. After purchasing the thing, however done, to have a novel relate to you as if you needed to be led by the hand through faux quandaries is infuriating. As David said, “It would be awful to have someone cheated by the experience of reading.”

But why does it have such an appeal? As a reading culture, have we just become lazy? Does the general population, from lack of time, education, or desire, simply not recognize a good novel when it sees it? Or are we just being curmudgeonly elitist, considering all tastes unlike ours to be wanting?

Well, I don’t think it’s the last of those (although I will qualify that below). Perhaps a mix of the first and the second.

Why can a trite novel have such appeal? To a certain extent, because so much of popular culture is similarly trite. If the young, the twenties-ish, and older are surrounded with such “deep” films as The Matrix, such soul-searching musicians as Avril Lavigne and Rob Thomas, and such witty political commentary as Maureen Dowd’s and Doug Giles’, why should we expect the novels to be less drivel-filled than the rest of popular culture?

On the one hand, it appears to be a type of intellectual laziness. But perhaps it is a laziness spawned from a lack of leisure. After all, your typical readers are working their eight-to-five jobs, taking care of families or investments, and so forth – there is little time left over for developing an adequate aesthetic sensibility, much less doing so on such a scale to change the dynamics of the publishing industry.

Moreover, there is a lack of early training to ensure some sense of taste in most people. Consider the typical high school student. S/he will have English or literature classes, no doubt, but will have books thrown at him/her without doing the harder work of understanding why a Shakespeare, a Fitzgerald, a Mann or an Eliot has aesthetic worth. Often times (or at least in my own, admittedly narrow, experience), this is the result of the teachers having no sense of taste themselves. The list of major authors, then, becomes a dead letter – the books are read because someone (whoever that “someone” is) considers these works important. It’s like repeating the words of an unknown language – you might be able to articulate something that sounds similar, with no understanding of the meaning behind it.

So, the typical readers, ill-disposed to know good literature thanks to being unhabituated to it and lacking the leisure to educate themselves on taste, pick up the hackneyed novels that are simple, easily digested, and that give the illusion of deeper issues. Sadly, it seems to be the result of society that is so busy as to not give itself the luxury to consider higher, though not necessarily more “practical,” things.

But, there is a danger on the part of the intelligent reader when faced with such a general drought in good works. It is quite simple to become a curmudgeon, or perhaps better, a misanthrope towards the reader masses. Instead of ensuring the growth of one’s taste, it becomes easy to see one’s taste as the opposite of the masses, which too quickly leads to a type of vulgarity that sees as “higher” works anything that shocks, saddens, or otherwise scandalizes the “booboisie.”

The up-and-up of this far too loquacious post, is that no leisure, and no training, leads to the dreadful situation of having vapid novels hailed highly. A pity.

On a totally unrelated note….”Philomena.” Curses! My secret has been revealed! ANGST!!!!!!!! I’ve been (digitally) living a lie all this time!

Okay, no, that’s not true. I am a fellow, indeed. It would come as quite a shock to me if I were not. But sixteen cool points to Kim for using a name like “Philomena” – highly groovy.