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Book-Talk Monday: Reading *Popular* Fiction

Monday, March 19, 2012

The term “popular fiction” is occasionally used interchangeably with “genre fiction”—another term to describe books that fall into categories like romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc. In fact, my master’s degree is in Writing Popular Fiction, and my area of specialization was Romance.

But using popular to describe all genre fiction is a misnomer—because not every book published in genre fiction is going to be “popular,” i.e., “regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general.” Looking at my own sales numbers, Stand-In Groom is a much more “popular” book than A Case For Love—as it’s sold several thousand more copies.

As readers, the books we love don’t always find the spotlight of popular approval. They’re not the bestsellers, the books that get all the media attention, become major motion pictures. And for many of us, the books that are the most popular (those on the bestseller lists, for example) aren’t those that we enjoy—we just don’t “get” why these books are so popular.

I’m a stubborn person by nature and I rarely do something just because everyone else is doing it. That’s not to say I don’t get caught up in pop culture trends—like certain TV shows like LOST. However when it comes to books, the more often I’m told I should read something, the less likely I am to read it unless it’s something that greatly interests me. (I have to this day never read The Shack, even though I have a copy of it on my shelf. I’ve been told repeatedly I *should* or *need* to read it—but the concept of the book and the storyline itself doesn’t interest me at all, so I don’t see the point in reading it.) I’m also not the kind of person who runs out and reads a book just because there’s a movie coming out based on it. Sometimes, the investment of two hours is all I need to know whether or not I’m going to like a story. (Such as with The Help. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I have no desire to read the book.)

However, there are times when something becomes so popular, gains such a following, that I decide out of curiosity to check it out to see what the hubbub is. This happened many years ago when the sixth Harry Potter book came out. All the outcries against the series started up again in the Christian writers’ group I was in—from people who’d never read the books, just read about them on conservative blogs or heard about them from preachers or speakers who were against them. That’s not to discount their stances or beliefs on the books. But I have never allowed others to form my opinions for me. So before I took a stance one way or the other on the books/films, I decided I needed to find out what they were about. So I got the discs of the first three movies from Netflix (they all actually arrived on the same day) and spent a Saturday watching them. Before the third movie ended, I’d gotten online and ordered a set of the first five books in paperback, as well as the hardcover of the sixth book (it wasn’t out in paperback yet), and within less than two months, I’d read the entire series and was eagerly anticipating the release of the seventh book. Which wouldn’t happen for a couple of years.

There have been other times when I’ve picked up a book to read because I’d heard a lot about it, because it was popular. But most of the time, I’ve discovered that my tastes don’t necessarily run to what’s “popular,” not even within the romance genre. I’m just a picky reader.

This weekend, I decided that I needed to once again get in touch with popular culture and read The Hunger Games. I started with downloading the sample to my Kindle. When on that page on Amazon, I discovered that it’s a title that’s part of Amazon’s free lending program. But I still wanted to read the sample first. I did—and as soon as I got to the end of the sample, I downloaded the entire book. That was around 9 p.m. Saturday night. At 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon, I finished reading the book. And I could see what all the hype was about—and I’m now wanting to see the movie, too.

Have you ever read something because it’s “popular,” even if it’s not something you might normally pick up? What’s been your experience in reading “popular” fiction?

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Lady DragonKeeper permalink
    Monday, March 19, 2012 4:26 am

    Coincidentally, I just read one of my friend’s goodread review (goodreads.com/review/show/286917251) on a book she never thought she’d read: “Twilight”. =)

    “Have you ever read something because it’s “popular,” even if it’s not something you might normally pick up?”

    Not really –though I am considering reading “The Hunger Games” even though I’ve never read nor am attracted to dystopian … if I end up seeing the movie, I’ll probably read the books, since I like to do that with book-based films.

    Same goes for the “Twilight” series –I’ve never been into vampires though after reading “Dracula” for an English Lit. class, I’m intrigued on how Stephanie Meyer (and earlier, Anne Rice) seems to have turned the “traditional” vampire legend and such on its head so to speak … making them more attractive rather than feared, etc. I might borrow them from the library during the summer or when I have time, but it’s not high on my book priority list. =)

    • Monday, March 19, 2012 10:13 am

      Thanks for including the link to that review. . .I really enjoyed reading it! :-D

      Like you, I hesitated in reading The Hunger Games because I don’t enjoy the dystopian setting either. However, this book read more like a science-fiction setting rather than a dystopian future setting. In fact, it reminded me of Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky, which I read in a Science Fiction literature seminar in college.

      • Lady DragonKeeper permalink
        Wednesday, March 21, 2012 4:51 am

        Ha ha, it’s very much like Amy …

        I do like sci-fi … :) Based on what I’ve seen in the movie trailers, I can see what you mean about the setting. The … district(?) or city Katniss is from looks like it could be on a planet from “Stargate SG-1″ that the team would visit or something.

  2. Audry permalink
    Monday, March 19, 2012 7:53 am

    1. I always took the meaning of “popular” in “popular fiction” to be more along the lines of “common” (def. 3: “of, pertaining to, or representing the people, especially the common people” 6:”suited to or intended for the general masses of people” 7:”adapted to the ordinary intelligence or taste”) as opposed to the more familiar “widely regarded as favorable.”

    2. As far as popular books in the sense of being widely read and liked, I go both ways. I don’t read every one I hear of, but I also don’t resist a book because it’s popular… seems to me that not reading a book because “everyone” says I should is letting popular opinion influence my behavior as much as reading because everyone else is.

    I had a similar experience to you with Harry Potter (to begin with anyway). Around the time the first movie came out (I think) I was in college and a bunch of my friends were getting really into the books. At the same time, I was hearing a lot of negativity about them from Christian circles, much of which seemed to come from people who hadn’t even read the books. So, like you, I decided to form my own opinion and requested the first book from the library. I read it, was underwhelmed by the writing but thought it was a reasonably interesting story for its intended 10-12 year old audience and had no desire to read any more of the series or see the movie. I did see the movie a few years later, enjoyed it much more than the book, and rented the rest of the ones that were out at that point. I’ve now seen all but the last movie, and have heard enough good about the later books from people whose opinions I respect to put them on my “to read” list…. and I’m sure someday I’ll get around to them :D

    A friend of mine gave me a copy of The Hunger Games before I’d ever heard of it, and I think before it got really popular. I read it based on her rave review and thought it was very good. I read the sequels as they came out and was less than impressed with Catching Fire and just plain put off by Mockingjay. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts about those two.

  3. Monday, March 19, 2012 8:24 am

    I find that I feel much the same as you about things…no one’s going to “make” me read anything! Ha! Your book, Stand in Groom, was the first time I’d read your work. I loved it! But the Shack…I tried to read it. Good for you for not bending to pressure on that one! I never finished it, don’t care to, and don’t see what all the “noise” was about over that one. My daughter has read all the Hunger Games, and can’t wait to see the movie. She’s 14. I don’t care for that genre, but I’ll go to the movie with her. I tend to like things that make sense, and if that makes me a dull reader, I’m ok with that. I went through my science fiction stage in high school. Now, I just like a good story, from a Christian perspective. And I can find plenty – my stack of “to read” runneth over! Happy page-turing, my friends!

    • Monday, March 19, 2012 10:25 am

      I find there’s a difference in letting popular opinion sway my behavior (in the opposite direction, usually) versus forming my opinion one way or the other. I have no opinion of The Shack other than the fact that I don’t want to read it because it doesn’t interest me. And there are plenty of other books, both Christian or not, which I haven’t or won’t read simply because of my personal lack of interest, no matter how many people tell me I *should.*

      I think this is the reason I always had trouble reading the works assigned for classes in high school and college. Anything I’ve been told I should or must read immediately seems less interesting to me. Most of the classics I’ve read (and enjoyed) have been the ones that I came to on my own, not for a class—such as Austen and Gaskell.

      • Dora permalink
        Monday, March 19, 2012 2:02 pm

        I am with you. The classics that I read are those that I have read, since leaving school. My reasoning not quite that of yours (someone told me to), I have always read very slowly, which meant that the time frame in which I needed to finish said novels was not longer enough. Therefore, during high school and college, my mantra was “Cliff Notes”. I have now found a great love for classical literature. I make it a point to read a “contemporary” novel and then a classic. I find that mix allows me more enjoyment from the books.

  4. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Monday, March 19, 2012 11:31 am

    I’ve never read anything or wanted to read anything just because it’s popular. There are always people telling me “you HAVE to read this, you’ll love it”. 100% of the time it’s a book I’m not interested in. Nothing about it appeals to me.

    I haven’t read The Shack and don’t intend to. I have some issues with some of the author’s portrayal choices and that alone is enough to make me not pick it up. I’ve never read Harry Potter and don’t intend to. I’ve seen most of two of the movies and was so bored I got up and left the room to go do something else. I can usually stitch through anything Elizabeth and Jason are watching, but not those. The subject matter of HP does not interest me enough to give her a chance to get past what I consider horrible writing. Ditto for The DaVinci Code. I’ve read a handful of excerpts and had it been the actual book instead of my computer screen I would have thrown it at the wall.

    I’ve seen The Help, but have no desire to read it. I have no desire to read Twilight because I don’t really care for first person. The Hunger Games is the one everyone is now telling me to read and guess what? I have no interest in reading it. I may see the movie eventually, but I’m not going to read the book when I have so many others on my list. It doesn’t interest me enough to put the time into it when I could be lost in my favorite time period instead.

  5. Sarah Richmond permalink
    Monday, March 19, 2012 12:33 pm

    I like Nancy Drew and alot of books to.

  6. Sherrinda permalink
    Monday, March 19, 2012 6:39 pm

    I read The Hunger Games a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I know there is a ton of people out there who are claiming it is horrible and unchristian (because of the killing for survival), but I loved how the message at the end was about triumph over the “leaders” who promote the games and exploit them. I haven’t started the next book, but I will in a month or so. (I’ve got a few more I need to read in front of it!)

  7. Monday, March 19, 2012 10:13 pm

    I’ve read and enjoyed all the HP’s. I’ve also read the Twilight series – I can see why it is so popular, but Bella is just too whiny for my liking. I also read Da Vinci Code, and can see why it got made into a movie – all action, no characterisation. Leaving aside the anti-Christian aspects, it’s a waste of trees.

    Haven’t read The Shack (but you’ve reminded me that after 18 months, I really must return the copy I borrowed), nor have I read Phillip Pullman (sp?). Just not interested.

    Am currently debating whether or not to get Hunger Games – it seems very similar to The Running Man by Richard Bachmann (aka Stephen King, and was much better as a book). I loved dystopian fiction as a teenager, and I think I’d rather read the book before I see the movie (reading the book also enables me to censor the movie from my pre-teen kids).

    So, yes, sometimes I read books because they are popular, and I pretty much exclusively read ‘popular fiction’, Because the alternative is literary fiction, and that, for me, is code for pretentious and/or boring.

  8. Wednesday, March 21, 2012 12:45 pm

    Just read “The Hunger Games.” I did like it o.k., but something about the plot (kids killing for their very survival) annoyed me. Granted, they could not help it but I still have “issues” with it. Having said that, I will definitely be reading books two and three. (And will see the movie on DVD.)

    Yep, so I am a little weird. ;-D

  9. Wednesday, March 21, 2012 7:53 pm

    Yes, for sure! The Hunger Games is a big one for me- I really put off reading it but last week decided to join the bandwagon. I will say I read it in a day and it was completely different than I was expecting. I did enjoy it!
    I check the BestSeller list every once in a while and do pick up some of the books, but for the most part stick to Christian fiction :)

  10. JamaGenie permalink
    Saturday, March 24, 2012 8:41 pm

    Kaye, how funny you should mention The Shack. My 86-yr-old friend, the insatiable reader, loves it and strongly urged me to read it me two years ago, but I Real Life got in the way and I haven’t yet. (Shhhh…don’t tell her…I think she forgot she told me.)

    The Help is a different matter. I kept hearing how great the book was, but when the movie came out, a friend told me to read the book first. Well, I did and was **totally** underwhelmed. (Was the editor at the publishing house on vacation? The arrangement of scenes and chapters is sooooo wrong!) The upshot being I’m not about to waste a minute (or a dime) on the movie.

    I’m a picky reader, too. Being told I should (or “have to”) read a “popular” book will NOT make me run out and get it.

    I did read all of the Harry Potter books, but only because one of my (grown) daughters gifted me with the first one, a hardback edition. Still, I resisted for weeks until one night I ran out of library books and the library was already closed, and the HP was it or nothing. (Don’t bother with bamboo under the fingernails or water boarding – putting me in a room with nothing to read for a few hours would be all the torture necessary to make me tell you anything you want to know…) One HP and I was hooked.

    A couple of years later I was visiting a daughter in IN when #3 or #4 came out. The morning I was to fly home, I was in a CVS when I realized I had nothing to read on the plane. There was a revolving plexiglass kiosk featuring HPs, all of which I’d read. I told the clerk who came over I was looking for the new Harry Potter, and to my utter amazement, she smiled oddly, reached into the center of the kiosk and pulled out the new Potter! I could see the open space in the center of the shelf, and there was no book there! But her hand went in…then came out with the book, a la Harry and friends going back and forth through the brick wall at the 9 3/4 Platform! I even got a little jolt as the book went from her hand to mine, so of course, I bought it!

    I apologize if this incident is bit too “woo woo” or offends anyone, but that’s what happened. When I got back to my daughter’s to finish packing, she even said I had the “strangest” expression. So who knows where that copy of Potter really came from…

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