If You Really Need the Fiber Just Eat the Book Instead

by syaffolee

Does reading stories need any justification?

I don’t think so.  Reading stories, reading only a certain type of story, or not reading at all is preference.  Novels aren’t food where you can say objectively one is good for your brain and the other isn’t (whether it’s well written or not is another matter).  It’s entertainment–something that isn’t required for survival but that does influence the quality of one’s life, if you let it.

I’m pondering this now because of a Salon article that tackles the idea of whether or not literature makes one a better person.  The article’s author concludes that it doesn’t:

Does reading great literature make you a better person? I’ve not seen much evidence for this common belief. Some of the best-read people I know are thoroughgoing jerks, and some of the kindest and noblest verge on the illiterate — which is admittedly an anecdotal argument, but then, when it comes to this topic, what isn’t?

I’m inclined to agree.  I’m also inclined to ask: why must fiction be read for moral improvement?  I’m sure some people do it for that reason.  But why must there be any reasons at all for reading anything?  As pointed out above, one doesn’t have to read anything at all in order to be a productive and respected part of society.

And speaking of moral improvement, a recent Wall Street Journal piece about the depravity of modern young adult fiction has YA writers spitting mad.  On one hand, I can see why parents can be despairing about how “appropriate” (however that is defined) contemporary fiction aimed at teenagers is.  But on the other hand, I also feel that writers should have the freedom to write whatever they wish, whether it’s about unicorns and rainbows or abuse and violence.

The onus of choosing what to read is not on the writer who merely writes the stories.  Nor is it on the marketer–a concientious reader doesn’t read something simply because someone tells them to.  The onus is on the reader.  No one is forcing anyone to read bad fiction in their spare time.  With today’s availability of information, no one is tricked into reading anything.  With thousands of books published each year and the ubiquity of online book retailers, if you can’t find anything good to read, you’re not trying hard enough.

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Personally, I have no interest in dark contemporary fiction for teens.  Even when I had been a teenager and read a few such books to try them out, I couldn’t stand the stuff.  I felt that most of the authors had absolutely no understanding about typical teenagers’ lives.  And perhaps such books would have been better served to be marketed as adult fiction that just happened to have teenaged protagonists.  But whatever the case, if other teenagers wanted to read them, I’m definitely not standing in their way.

And I guess that’s another point in the WSJ article that I have trouble with–the notion that teenagers need gatekeepers in order to filter their reading.  Adults, especially the sort of adults who think that only they know what’s good for everyone, always seem to underestimate how smart kids are.  Teens know the difference between fiction and reality and should have the freedom to read what they wish.  And if the parents have an objection to a particular book, they should at least have the courage to discuss with their kids–in a reasonable manner–why they find it objectionable instead of outright banning it in the heat of the moment.  Because you know they’re going to find a way to read it behind your back anyway.