I've always been slightly rebellious (okay, my mom just laughed at the use of the word "slightly"), so I've never been one to read something because it's a best seller, or because someone else tells me that a book is "important."
In today's New York Times Book Review section, I loved reading a debate about this very idea: Is a book good because it's "LIT-ra-ture," or because it's just fun to read?
I believe that, much like a Twinkie, the middle is where the good stuff happens. On one end you have what you're supposed to read, and almost never do. And on the other end, the things that you're slightly embarrassed to admit you read. Much like admitting that you ever ate a Twinkie.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Henry James, William Faulkner, Plutarch, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. And I also enjoy the books that I call "popcorn books," those by Dick Francis and Agatha Christie. They aren't on any classics lists, but I love them and gobble them down like popcorn. In fact, I have every single one of the Dick Francis books - 49 if you're counting.
But tell me that I have to read something just because everyone else thinks it's fabulous and I balk. Because I'm usually let down (thanks a lot, Dan Brown and Jonathan Franzen) and the attention is often not worth the blather.
Frankly, it's why I gravitate to book awards like the Man Booker and the Morning News Tournament of Books - the nominated books are usually good to fantastic, amazingly well written, and creatively entertaining (except for that John Irving thing, but more about that in another post).
The middle is occupied by wizards like Jo Rowling and Elizabeth George, who create indelible characters while pulling us completely into their worlds. Or by Jo Nesbo and Robert Harris, who paint mesmerizing visions of worlds we don't occupy.
And I've read breathtaking writing - crying (hard) over Harrison in Pigeon English, holding my breath over the pain suffered by Dorrigo in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and sighing when Marie-Laure finally meets Werner in All the Light We Cannot See. The middle even made me change my mind over apocalyptic novels after I read Station Eleven. The middle is really satisfying.
So don't let anyone tell you that your favorite author isn't a good one. Or that you aren't intelligent enough to "get it" if you don't like James Joyce. You read what you want. You do you. And we'll meet in the middle.