Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Thoughts On Trashy Books & Reading

I want to share a link to author Ricard de Nooy's pre-emptive rejection letters, which were recently published by ITCH. As a writer, I couldn't help but appreciate the spirit of the article. As a reader, I loved it because it was fun and funny. Anyhoo, get this writer's books when they come out ( he has one out and one in the works).

Speaking of books, I'd decided not to publish a rant about the difference between principle and what actually happens ( re buying books and reading), but the words flowed despite me and eventually I thought, what the heck? I might as well publish it.

Anyway, kept telling my friend Christelle, to whom I ranted for half an hour about how misunderstood readers are, that it's not in me to be confrontational, and that I could be wrong anyway, and I don't have the stamina to challenge wisdom that has worked for a long time, and the principle I'm challenging is true and valid and whatever, but the reality is that I'm just too chicken. That's why I didn't say a lot on the forum, and that's why I didn't want to publish this post. But enough caveats!

So what's this about?

I recently asked for recommendations for book series targeted predominantly at women, written by South African authors. And I got quite a few recommendations, which I hope to compile into an article much like the one I published today on OneLove. And then one of the people whose work I respect highly asked why I'm asking for books that are aimed primarily at women. Why can't women enjoy a darn good read?

And in principle, I agree with her.

The problem is that many women don't read what we think they should read, never mind that it's a darn good read. They BUY and READ what they like. And many times in my experience ( whatever that's worth), it's the stuff that's dismissed as women's fiction or fluff or trash. And how do I know this? Because I'm one of those people/women. Never mind that people expect me to be sensible, to appreciate literature ( because I'm a writer and quite enjoy some literary writers).

Never mind that my writing work mostly deals with real life issues (HIV, AIDS and relationships on OneLove, sexual assault including rape on Shukumisa and volunteering and making a difference to communities in Kwanda and IT business in Africa ). So in terms of character I'm far from fluffy.

But when it comes down to it, my entertainment book budget generally goes to the kind of trash we like to ignore. Except, it does exist. And sensible women do read that kind of trash. And I know many women who do, because they have been borrowing some of my books, and lending me theirs, for years. They have nice responsible jobs. They are very well educated. They read. A LOT! And yes, they are well-read ( for work, to sound intelligent in company or even bacause they enjoy various types of written works).

But, they also read a lot of stuff they would not admit to, except to another person who readers similar trash. And that's sad. Because I am trully committed to encouraging South Africans to read. But, as long as we don't recognise that men and women sometimes like different books, and within those two general groups there are many special interest groups, are we going to be able to help them find what they want to read? Or do we keep reinforcing what they should read (because it's well written, the story is interesting etc,) even though they want something else?

I'm not saying that we should not encourage people to be well-read, and to recommend well-written books that add to poeple's knowledge even as they entertain. I'm just saying, sometimes, no matter how well-meant, people want what they want, and they will bypass us to find it. And as writers and people who want to encourage readers to read, we should be aware of that, and mitigate that risk.

I belong to a number of online reading forums, some of them underground ( don't have to share real ID, so can be freer about views). You'd be shocked by the volume of traffic of people talking about books, recommending books, talking about authors and their last books and what to expect. And the sheer willingness of ordinary people to talk about books.

Granted, in SA, we are restricted by the lack of Internet access for the majority of South Africans. And yes, most of the books bought, recommended and discussed have tired plotlines, and are mostly predictable. But they get read. And talked about. And I wish we had some of that here in SA. And I wish I could easily get a big list of books by South African writers to introduce them to these readers.

Anyhoo, I want to ask you to share your thoughts on what I said. Don't forget I'm sharing my experience; my views. It doesn't make what I say true or the only way. Or that I wouldn't consider changing some of my views given convincing arguments. So talk to me.


tiah said...

I enjoy lighter reads from time to time. But lately I've found my tolerance for slop writing greatly diminished. A light read does not have to be a rubbish read. Jennifer Weiner is a brilliant "chick lit" author, and Paula Wall is under appreciated (although still widely popular in the States).

I've yet to find a true lighter read writer in SA that I am as passionate about...then again, the library seems to have all my reservation requests on permanent standby, so maybe it is just a matter of time.

Nosizwe said...

Hallo Damaria I work at NELM in Grahamstown, EC - the National English Literary Museum in South Africa. If you are in the area please pay a visit! We have a helpful research section who will assist you and we have a vast collection. You'll find us on the Rhodes University webpage and for queries you could use the email a.martin@ru.ac.za Keep up your projects you are a mother of our nation! Petro Nhlapo

Damaria Senne said...

@Petro - Many thanks. Next time I'm in Grahamstown ( I hope to attend Highway Africa conference again one of these days, though I'm missing it this year), I will pop in to say hi. I enjoy reading and talking about books, so it's not exactly work:-)

@tiah - I think the trick for writers who want to provide a lighter read is to be able to do so without giving us badly written drivel, isn't it? And I wish many South African writers were interested in doing this, because there are hungry readers to be fed, I think:-)

I also get tired of "slop writing." Then there are authors who keep telling the same old story, in the same old location, with the same old characters,given a slight make-over to suit the new book. Gah! That's not storytelling!

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

The conventions of genre fiction do tend to encourage some writers to just re-hash the same old plot with new characters and settings. If the story is well-told, that can provide a comforting feeling when one is simply trying to read for a few moments of escape. But it can easily become lazy writing. Sadly, some of today's romances (my light entertainment of choice) fall into that trap until I long for the good old days when romances where fresh and exciting. (Maybe I've just read too many!)

And keep up the good work with all your projects - @Petro put it well!

po said...

I love this post Damaria it's so true! A lot of ficton tageting women is seen a "light" or trash. I personally don't read a lot of it, but if people are reading, that makes me happy. Some people read for relaxation, some for entertainment, some to make them think. Whatever floats your boat. The detective and murder stuff guys read can be light and trashy too!

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