This is a guest post from Jen Sherman. Jen recently submitted her PhD on public libraries and is finally finding time to read again for fun. She also recently moved from Sydney, Australia to sunny California and is realising the importance of the Baby-Sitters Club, Anastasia Krupnik and Ramona Quimby to her understanding of American culture. As a researcher, her interests are in libraries, book retailing, and the book industry (among others). As a reader, she’s a sucker for happily ever afters. Follow her on Twitter@jennnigan.
My favourite books are the ones that will either make me cry, or feel very stressed out and convinced that I will get murdered at any moment (but it’s okay because there will be a dedicated and highly skilled team of detectives and forensic analysts who will solve the murder and bring my killers to justice), and that always have a happy ending. Good guys don’t die, and the protagonist and his or her love interest live happily ever after.
These tend to be books that are easy to read page-turners that I devour in an afternoon or a plane ride. These are never books that will win literary prizes, and will never be found in the ‘literary fiction’ section of the bookshop.
It’s interesting, analysing yourself as a reader. I’m close to finishing a PhD on public libraries, which includes a component on readers and taste. Using the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of cultural capital and habits, I’ve been examining the reading tastes, habits, and backgrounds of the library users I interviewed.
There is a lot of research out there on what kinds of people enjoy what kinds of books. Typically, those with higher levels of education, employed in professional fields, and from higher social class will tend to read ‘higher’ classes of literature like poetry, canonical works of literature, literary fiction. Those with lower levels of education are more likely to read genre fiction such as romance and thrillers. I did see examples of this in my research participants, but I also saw examples of readers who went against the grain.
As someone whose career has been toddling along on an academic trajectory until a recent decision to pursue librarianship, who has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, and who finds comfort in being surrounded by books, one might expect me to have higher literary tastes than I actually do.
And yet, my favourite books are the ones that don’t necessarily force me to think about big abstract concepts, or are full of depth and complexity and beautifully poetic sentences. Instead, these are the ones that suck me into the story, make me care about the characters, feel things in a raw and open way, and give me a need to keep turning pages. These are well written books, but a different kind of well written. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the lack of literary cultural capital I exhibit in my reading choices and instead embrace the the books I love, openly and unashamedly. Bring on the chick lit and crime fiction.