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Why Reading “Terrible” Novels Isn’t A Bad Idea

As the holidays roll around and we start interacting with family members who we don’t see on a regular basis, there is always that one person who asks you what you’ve been reading lately and they don’t like the answer they get. “Oh, you read [insert favorite genre here]? Haven’t you grown out of those yet?” Alternatively this is about the time of year awards start getting announced and there’s the usual backlash concerning the award’s method of choosing, the taste of the judges, the idiocy of leaving the choice up to the unwashed masses and the chorus of, “Why haven’t any of my favorite books been nominated for anything?”

While everyone’s reaction to someone belittling their favorite books can vary, prolonged exposure to it can lead to a desire to justify their reading preferences, which is normal. Rather than explode into a quivering mass of fan rage, here are some alternatives.

She's Reading by StreetByOuritCritical thinking is a skill that always needs honing.

They are many many articles running around that lament the education of whoever is currently in school, how they can’t add, they struggle with reading comprehension and so on and so forth and it’s been happening since forever. However, rather than asking anyone to look at their own thinking processes in grade school, it’s more a game of giving the “correct” answer that the teacher (or standardized test) wants. Once you learn how to figure out why such and such character affects you in however way, you can start talking about how whatever fictional work fits into larger social pictures.

As with everything, that takes practice and starting with easy targets helps. Why is this thing loathsome? Why do I like this thing? What is the story doing to make itself legible to me? Why is this character so boring and how does that function (or not) in the supposed plot? All of that takes work and practice, and practice is most fun when it looks like a game of trope spotting or subgenre bingo.

Fan rage can be informative.

I am not trying to pick a fight here, but the things that a large group of fans get livid over indicates that they hold that thing as important and which things they are overlooking. When asked Kirk or Picard, my answer is Sisko. Team Edward or Team Jacob? Team Neither. Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson? Mark Hamill. Debates within fandom can highlight where the blind spots of that fandom are and it is worthwhile to think about those blind spots’ relation in the larger scope of biases that run through that section of culture.

THE END BookendToo many dense “good” books may result in headaches and a dislike of reading.

Reading for pleasure can be killed off by making it into a dull chore one does in order to spit out the right answers for the ever present standardized test. Realizing that books can be read for reasons other than the essay that’s due in a week is important.


I have continued with series I found wholly awful and headdeskingly bad because reading them reminded me that “I can totally do better than that” and then I would go write a short story that was better than whatever it was. Not everyone is inspired to greatness by greatness. Sometimes it’s more like taking a look at a big pile of crap and going, “I need to clean up that manure by using it for fertilizer or setting it on fire or anything other than leaving it alone.”

Pop culture makes no distinctions for quality.

What is popular and what is critically acclaimed are often two entirely different things. Things that are popular are things that strike a chord with a big audience. Things that are critically acclaimed are presumed to be reflective and thought provoking (although that can be debatable). Those don’t always overlap.

MonsterBooks by raybenderReading serves different purposes for different people.

Some people read to learn, some read to escape, others read for some mix between the two. No two people are alike hence the wonderful variety of books, which will hopefully become even more diverse.

Hilarious titles and premises.

This isn’t so much the case for fantasy (with a few exceptions like Robert Asprin and Charlaine Harris), but there are entire subsections of romance and mystery that are populated by punny titles all stemming from a theme, like birds of knitting or how many different kinds of were-critter can be thought up and then slept with. Also it is entirely possible to be intrigued by a neat idea enough to finish a book, but not necessarily like much of the characters, the plot, and/or the setting. I’m still waiting for someone to use a were-platypus though. Or a were-opossum.

You never know what will get someone through when life decided to throw frozen lemons at them.

Life is weird and silly and tragic. Sometimes it takes something weird, silly or tragic to deal with it.

Sometimes terrible books aren’t terrible at all.

The Escape from Apartment 1A by robotniccYou need go no further that looking at all the one star reviews for one’s favorites to realize that they don’t speak to everyone the same way. That’s why there’s a variety to choose from.

Hidden Gems

You know the book that you picked up on a whim because the cover was pretty and then it turned out to be the most awesome book ever? Then you had to tell everyone that the book was so awesome but got greeted by eye rolling and, “Yeah, but it’s [subgenre of choice].”


Screw that. Ninety percent of everything will not resonate with someone…but that last ten percent makes up for all the rest.

Title image by robotnicc.



  1. Avatar Splicer says:

    This is why every so often I pick up one more of John Norman’s Gor books. It’s an exercise in understanding what happens when someone is so enamored with their view of the world that they forget an adventure novel is also supposed to be entertaining.

  2. Avatar Anne says:

    I would agree with what is said above and I would go further – I think that people make judgements of you as a person because of what you read and even whether you read – I blogged about this some time ago – see here http://www.dnsmedia.co.uk/posts/view/96.

    There are worse things to do than indulge in “trashy” reading.

  3. Avatar Jared says:

    Terrific post. Trying to find which bit I agree with most, but really, er… all of it.

  4. Avatar Steven Roy says:

    I love this. I think with self-publishing becoming ever more prevalent there are no longer the gate keepers of traditional publishing protecting us from trash or prohibiting us from reading a book they might have never published because they didn’t know how to market the book.

    Having said all that, I think a lot of responsibility falls to readers and fandom. It’s up to us to take chances on books and either discover a hidden gem or maybe something that is just painful to read.

  5. Avatar Amy Laurens says:

    HA! I have totally written a short story about were-platypuses. It was published back in 2009, I think. Maybe ’08? Anyway. Moving on. Fabulous article. As someone who frequently finds herself defending genres choices to the family, this was an encouraging thing to read :o)

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