“Anything you read can influence your work, so try to read good stuff.” – S.E. Hinton
What is good stuff? As a librarian and a voracious reader, I see both sides to this question. Most folks think “good stuff” means the classics or literary fiction: high-brow literature you likely studied in school. During the summer, “good stuff” usually means entertaining, escapist best-sellers. For me, though, “good stuff” means good writing and an enjoyable book. Hopefully, encompassed in the same book.
Whether the latest Booker Prize winner or a best-selling genre novel or a whimsical and silly kid’s book, enjoyable is highly subjective. (Good writing is often subjective, too.) Folks usually forget – if they ever knew in the first place – that many of today’s classics were the potboilers and trashy romances of their era. Dickens? Austen? The Brontes? Even Stendhal or Shakespeare wrote, not for awards, but for popular acclaim and money.
A book can be “good” on many levels. And as with so much of life, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. The Twilight phenomenon is an excellent example. Personally, when I read it for the first time, I enjoyed it. The following books I enjoyed less each time – and I really should have skipped the last in the series. However, I didn’t think of it as “bad” writing – until I read the Washington Post review. It completely changed my perspective on Twilight. (Not to mention that I would never have taken Meyer’s prose as an example of great writing.)
What had been a fun campy vampy read for me became a mush pot of repellent feminine stereotypes and creepy relationship dynamics. Yet, the series became an instant best-seller worldwide. Something in Meyer’s books obviously appeals to people – and not just lovelorn teenage girls hoping for a little romance beyond “Wanna hang out tonight?”
Will Twilight become the Pride and Prejudice of our century? I sincerely hope not. But I also refuse to censor the reading tastes of the children I help as I volunteer at a school library – or those of the adults who follow my reviews or ask for advice on what to read next. One never knows what will become a classic, and writing styles fall in and out of fashion just like clothes. (Omniscient and omnipresent narrator, anyone?)
In the end, good reading is much like good nutrition: a little junk never hurts as long as the main diet has plenty of wholesome, not overly processed food.