I just came across a good Newsweek article about the commercial/literary divide in literature. And the question I hear more and more - Is reading a good end in and of itself, or is reading so called fluff or escapist literature little better than just watching tv? Is escapist literature, and reading just for fun a potential "gateway drug" to more premium, difficult literature? Or is it just another brain-sapping activity?
In the article, Zadie Smith is quoted as saying, "readers fail when they allow themselves to believe that fiction is the thing you relate to and writers the amenable people you seek out when you want to have your own version of the world confirmed and reinforced."
I think this is a valid point, especially about the nature of comfortable reading that only reinforces ones already-entrenched worldviews and values. At the same time, so much high-brow literary fiction is just so damn boring. Neither the story-lines, nor the language-usage is interesting or beautiful. For example, I read Zadie Smith's White Teeth. And I didn't like it all - I thought there were several bizarre story-lines that were held together by the contrived image of "teeth" in a novel that did shed light on a culture I was not familiar with, but felt overall pointless.
What drives me crazy is that there appears to be so little dialogue about creating a middle ground. Because each side is indignant and defensive against the other, calling each other alternately sell-outs or snobs, the accessible well-written fiction is hard to find. Why do we have to be afraid of literature that is enjoyable? Why is it either "genre" fiction or "literary" fiction (I mean, literary fiction is pretty defined by what it is NOT, i.e., NOT genre fiction)? Why don't MFA programs allow genre writers in? How do we expect to get better written genre writing, or more interesting and accessible literary fiction, or better yet, blurring the line so completely that its not entirely identifiable as one or the other?
Here's the link to the article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/193475