I am a reader. I have had a book in my hand as long as I can remember. My parents are both readers and instilled a love of it in their children. My mom loves Debbie Macomber and mysteries set in quilting shops. My dad reads westerns and spy novels. My sister introduced me to Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes over ten years ago and she and I both still read their books. So some may say, just by looking at our taste in literature, that my family and I are, mayhaps, not bright as we enjoy subliterature. (Defined as popular writing (as mystery or adventure stories) considered inferior to standard literature.) And here is where I correct that misconception. Both of my parents have degrees, my father in Industrial Engineering; my mom went back to college in her fifties and went on to receive a degree in Information Technology. My sister is in higher education administration and is less than a year out from earning her PhD. I am the Chief Financial Officer of a non-profit at thirty-seven.
This quote from author Jennifer Weiner’s Facebook page is what sparked my diatribe, “New York Magazine’s brand-new book critic published a lengthy piece on Franzen’s latest, where the writer described me as “bestselling but subliterary” (!) and said that, in the absence of a Susan Sontag or Germaine Greer, Franzen has done me the huge favor of even acknowledging my existence — and he’s only done it because it’s “lonely at the top”.” I’m going to be honest and say that this made me both angry and frustrated. I don’t believe in subliterature; all books have their place and while some may not be crowing achievements, all are important. I will read almost anything. I will go from a young adult series about werewolves, to a heartbreaking novel about forced childhood prostitution, to what my husband teasingly refers to as my “vampire porn” to a novel focusing on a dysfunctional family and suicide.
I read to expand my horizons, to feel, to escape and to live through someone else’s actions. If I have had a bad day I don’t want to read about hardship, I want to read about love and laughter. Some days I want to read a memoir to slip into another’s world. Some days it doesn’t matter what I’m reading as long as I’m reading.
In an article from the Harvard Business Review author John Coleman states “…deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.” and “Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.” In the paper by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich. “What Reading Does.” they state “We have found that even when performance is statistically equated for reading comprehension and general ability, reading volume is still a very powerful predictor of vocabulary and knowledge differences. Thus, we believe that reading volume is not simply an indirect indicator of ability; it is actually a potentially separable, independent source of cognitive differences.” As part of their testing they also:
…made an effort to devise questions that were directly relevant to daily living in a technological society in the late twentieth century; for example, What does the carburetor in an automobile do? If a substance is carcinogenic, it means that it is ______? After the Federal Reserve Board raises the prime lending rate, the interest that you will be asked to pay on a car loan will generally increase/decrease/stay the same? What vitamin is highly concentrated in citrus fruits? When a stock exchange is in a “bear market, “what is happening? and so forth. The results indicated that the more avid readers in our study—regardless of their general abilities—knew more about how a carburetor worked, were more likely to know who their United States senators were, more likely to know how many teaspoons are equivalent to one tablespoon, were more likely to know what a stroke was, and what a closed shop in a factory was, etc. One would be hard pressed to deny that at least some of this knowledge is relevant to living in the United States in the late 20th century.
What struck me, was in both of the cited works, it was the diversity and volume of books read, not what type of book it was that mattered. So it doesn’t matter if I’m reading Kierkegaard or Giffin, Chaucer or Ward; what matters is that I keep reading. I think it is an intrinsic part of human nature to be voyeuristic, and books let me do this. So be proud of what you read, walk with your head held high while holding your chick lit and your romance novels. Tell your friends and family how good that story with the Happily Ever After ending was. Post on Facebook your favorite feel good book regardless what hot button political drama is going on. And repeat after me – “Naysayers be damned!”