Last summer, I started logging the books I read into Goodreads, mostly out of statistical cuiriosity. I wanted to learn some things about my own reading habits, from how many books I read in a year, to how many of those books are written by women, by writers of color, how many were books in translation, etc.
The other day, I was scanning my list when I noticed something I hadn’t intended to look for: The average rating of comics and genre books is higher than the average rating for literary fiction. Like, significantly higher (I’m not a math guy. Don’t ask me about standard deviations and shit; let’s just say it was big enough to jump out at a bored guy who wasn’t looking for this data).
How to explain it? What to make of it?
You could say, I suppose, that literary fiction is more likely to be assigned in school (89% of one-star reviews include a line like I had to read this for class is a statistic that sounds real), but I don’t think that’s the main factor here. After all, the lower numbers weren’t just for classics like Jane Eyre, but also extended to new stuff that I’m pretty sure isn’t getting assigned anywhere, like The Leftovers by Tom Perotta.
Or you might say that readers of literary fiction are more discerning than readers of comics and genre books. And I might call you a snob.
I don’t really know how to explain this phenomenon, but I do know this: when you read the lukewarm reviews of literary fiction on Goodreads, it’s easy to get the impression that these people don’t really like books. On the other hand, when you read the reviews of comics and genre, it’s totally apparent how much these people REALLY LOVE THESE BOOKS. They love reading them, they love writing about them, and they want to share this love. When you read the reviews for Fables, for instance, your main impression will be of a pulsing, evangelical zeal.
On the writing side, the walls between genre and lit have been breaking down for a long while. “Literary” authors have been borrowing the tools and techniques of genre for years, and the practice is only becoming more common. What I want to suggest here is that readers do the same kind of raiding.
Readers of lit: remember that you have a choice. No one is making you read this stuff. If you don’t like it, you can always just put it down and pick up the remote. But if you do choose to pick up some lit, remember that you’re doing it because you enjoy this shit. And then, go enjoy that shit, and don’t be afraid to show it.
And if you don’t, try some comics. Maybe you’ll enjoy them. I do.