Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Marginal" titles

I've been working my way through Naked City, a collection of urban fantasy short stories, and I came across this turn of phrase in "The Projected Girl" by Lavie Tidhar. Here's a bit more of the original paragraph, so you get the full gist of the thing:

"D'you know," he said, as if imparting a great truth to his young audience, "these are marginal titles. A boy like you - you should be reading Agnon, Grossman, Oz, Appelfeld. Serious literature, not this trash."

Oh, how reading this brought back memories! Long ago, when I was still working in a used book store, I had a co-worker who was always on me about what I was reading. I was very much into horror at the time: vampires, werewolves, and lots of other scary stuff. I also picked up a lot of the paranormal romance authors, mostly because I didn't mind the spice and I could usually get my vamp/were fix easier with that genre. And I picked up other stuff that was fun, too, humor (this was the store where I discovered Jill Connor Browne and her Sweet Potato Queens), some philosophy (never did really get it), and once upon a time, an awesome book about female exploitation in slasher flicks (a book that spurred me to finally track down and watch I Spit on Your Grave...). In other words, I was reading for fun.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from aforementioned co-worker, who kept saying that he/she didn't understand why I read such "trash" (and yes, I'm trying to protect the identity of this person). Why, oh why, would I waste my time on such garbage? I was an English major, for crying out loud - where was the serious literature? Why wasn't I continuing my studies of the greats? Why wouldn't I, at the very least, pick up a modern literary title? In other words, why was a reading such "marginal" work?

I'll tell you why: I enjoyed it. Honestly, I had read a lot of great stuff while working on my bachelor's. But that time was over, and I just wanted to read...well, what I wanted to read. And what I chose was light, fluffy stuff. OK, maybe not that fluffy, considering some of it was pretty good horror, but I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. I didn't want to be reading anything terribly deep. I didn't want to have to parse a sentence. I didn't want to lay out the motives of the protagonist. I just did not want to be reading "serious literature" at that time. This is what I explained to the co-worker. He/she was aghast, and actually said something to the effect that he/she was worried for my "literary soul".

Um, seriously? Can we say "pretentious"?

It's been many years since this episode, and I've read many, many books since then. As I've gotten older, I have gone back and started reading some "serious literature" again. I've read a few authors that I somehow never read (despite being an English major), and I've been reading a lot more non-fiction, perhaps trying to keep my grey matter working at its peak. But this has been my choice.

And when I want, I read lots of those "marginal" titles. What can I say? I like to be entertained.

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