The other day I had a friend over for dinner (and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I do, on occasion, cook, though I’m certainly no Stepford wife, kinda would have to be married to manage that, but never mind). After dinner, and may I mention, homemade cookies, had been consumed, my friend told me a story I found, as a well known book lover, somewhat grotesque.
It went as follows; a professor at the university my friend attends, had told her that the more popular an author is, the worse his or her books tend to be. Which is a not very subtle way of saying that if you happen to be a bestselling author your books are crap. Wtf?! It is my belief that this professor, whoever he is, has probably spent way too many hours stuck in his dusty little cupboard of an office re-reading an e-mail from an independent publishing house telling him that no, regrettably they won’t be publishing his highly fascinating intellectual sequel on some obscure, deeply philosophical topic seeing that his first book only sold about four copies, sorry about that.
I find it most likely that this professor then spent the remaining hours of his work day fuming over Dan Brown’s unfathomable (to this professor at least) success, and then tearing out the little hair he has left, as the poor (in every meaning if the word) professor contemplated how many gazillion copies Mr. Brown has sold and how his publisher is practically salivating at the prospect of another book involving Professor Robert Langdon. Now that’s a professor who knows how to sell a book!
But let’s get back to the issue at hand here. Not all bestsellers are despaired of or obstinately ignored in higher literary circles. Take Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for instance. I’m sure those books must have sold roughly a zillion copies each, yet they’ve never had to suffer condescending looks from long, pointy nosed intellectuals. (I’m generalizing here, I’m sure there are intellectuals with very fine looking noses out there too.) When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out I spent the entire day reading it. I started at breakfast and didn’t put it down until I’d finished gobbling it up at around 10.30 pm. I’d stuck by those characters through sickness and health, for better and for worse for the past eight years, and I would see it through to the very end. And I did, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one either.
Now, how many can honestly, scout’s honor, say that they’ve spent the entire day reading Crime and Punishment, and, most importantly, enjoying it? Hmmm? Exactly. If anyone out there actually has, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you need to find yourself another therapist, because the one you’re seeing is obviously not working. I’m not saying that Dostoyevsky and Plath didn’t know what they were doing. As writers I mean, not as human beings. As the latter, I strongly suspect they were both a little (a polite way of saying a lot) lost. But Plath certainly was an able writer. She conveyed that cloying sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness so well that by the end of the book, I too felt like sticking my head in the oven and be done with it.
The point I’m trying to make here, somewhat chaotically, is that books, for me at least, are about love. And love means happiness, joy and if you’re very lucky, ecstatic thrills. Great books are for me the ones filled with amazing epic adventures and wonderfully passionate whirlwind romances, the kind of books where I can hardly catch my breath. Besides, apart from the most resent bestsellers such as Twilight and the likes, there are many popular books which in time have become renowned classics. Take Gone with the Wind (I gorged myself sick on that one), or Jane Eyre (ah, Mr. Rochester…) and Wuthering Heights (hello, Heathcliff!). Not to mention Pride and Prejudice, I absolutely love the BBC version. That scene where Mr. Darcy comes up from the water, all dripping wet, white shirt clinging to his well-shaped muscular chest… Ehm, right, well back to the point.
As I was saying, those books, though immensely popular, have become classics to be brought down from one generation to another. I don’t think popularity for a book means an automatic death sentence for its quality. The notion that if something becomes widely popular you can’t like it anymore, unless you’re a complete idiot, is rubbish in my opinion. Even if that were to be the case, I think I’ll agree with Monty Python; Oh how sweet to be an idiot…
I’ve loved vampire books since before I could read and just because every pimply faced, gangly female teenager on the planet is currently supporting either Team Edward or Team Jacob these days, doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly gone off vampire books. It might not have become more sociably acceptable to like vampire books (on the contrary I find), but it’s a whole lot easier to get your hands on. Sure you can argue that there might be writers out there who know how to exploit this frenzy, but screw it. If they know what they’re doing, count me in.
It’s not just vampire books, a lot of my other absolute favorite books are bestsellers, like those of Stephen King. I love his books and yet there are those who claim that he could publish his grocery list and it’d still make the New York Times Bestseller list. So what? I still get completely lost in his stories (maybe even a little too lost sometimes). For me it becomes about feeling what the characters feel, seeing what they see and hearing what they hear. It’s about sharing their laughter and sorrow, and if this sounds disturbingly passionate and slightly schizophrenic, then so be it.
To me books are my great passion. Books are my one true love that has always and will always be a part of me. I know that when I’m old and wrinkly, resembling a prune someone left behind in the back of a cupboard, stuck in some forgotten nursing home and all chances of having wonderfully passionate whirlwind romances of my own are long gone, I can still pick up one of my favorite books and find love between those well-thumbed pages.
I won’t argue that some books regarding important and vital matters of either a political, ethical or philosophical nature, even if they only reach a limited audience, can’t make a difference, because they can. But even those bestsellers that aren’t perceived as intellectual can still be smart and clever, warm and witty, fun and charming. Those smart, clever, warm, witty, fun and charming bestsellers do often broach important matters in their own humble way, and it works. If it didn’t they wouldn’t become bestsellers in the first place. Those books speak a language that people can relate to and they touch people’s lives. And no university professor is ever going to convince me of otherwise.