No Love of Milton if Not for Loving Frivolous Fiction

这篇由Isabelle Lu撰写的文章是我们第七届年度学生编辑大赛高中组的前9名获奖者之一,我们收到了6,076份参赛作品。


My long-distance friend and I often text pictures of books back and forth, accompanied by “Have you read this?” He also sends photos of crowded bookshelves, crammed with pale booklets. They’re his dad’s, who owns roughly ten thousand books.

When I displayed my more modest personal bookshelf, featuring shiny-foiled fantasy and colorful young adult novels, he bemoaned, “My dad won’t let me read anything un-classic. He thinks it’s a waste of time.”

I was immediately indignant over his dad’s attitude. How could you own so many books, yet deride almost every genre? But how would I, a high schooler, have more valid tastes than a scholar and elevated press editor?

Most of the books in my house are bright and sparkly, characterizing my reader origins: Rainbow Magic, Candy Apple, Dork Diaries, Popularity Papers. Motifs include magical creatures, “distracting” font choices, unrealistic high school drama, crushes, mean girls. Also present is a subsection of young adult, with the same elements. I devoured these wastes of time.

But today, I whittle away at classics, fully appreciative of their cultural significance and artistry. My recent leisure reads include Austen, Beckett, Hugo and Neruda. Next to heist fantasy “Six of Crows,” social media teen romance “Tweet Cute,” and graphic novel “Pumpkinheads,” of course. Such “frivolous” genre reads can be meaningful in their own right, offering breaks from the density of both classics and real life. Most importantly, they’re fuel for the reading habit that’s significantly linked to success and well-being.

This habit is created, as described by editor Pamela Paul, by experiencing reading not as “spinach,” but as “chocolate cake”— not necessarily full of nutrients, but deliciously addictive. (Perhaps the spinach becomes chocolate cake: Homer’s “Odyssey” after reading “Goddess Girls,” “Pygmalion” after “Princess Diaries,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” after “Her Evil Twin.”)

Parents may be underwhelmed by their kid diving into “Captain Underpants" or their teenager’s obsession with “Twilight.” Readers themselves may feel guilty in sticking around in young adult, chick-lit or romance sections. But as Lev Grossman writes of genre fiction, “What is it, exactly, that those pleasures are guilty of?” You’re still getting the boost in vocabulary, an expanded worldview and access to originality and imagination. In whatever amount it may be present in.

I certainly feel the need to steer others toward capital-G Great books that are well-written and inventive. Yet my younger sister will ignore my recommendation of “Anne of Green Gables” for a month while flying through a book about magical cats in a day. At such a time, I recall the privilege of pulling “Dork Diaries” from the shelf, sitting down with it for several hours, relishing the sparkly illustrations and overdramatic plotlines in a decidedly un-literary way.

Works Cited

Bruni, Frank. “The Gift of Reading.” The New York Times. 25 Nov. 2015.

Grossman, Lev. “Literary Revolution in the Supermarket: Genre Fiction is Disruptive Technology.” Time. 23 May 2012.

Pinsker, Joe. “Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers.” The Atlantic. 10 Sept. 2019.