I was reading a scathing review of Dan Brown’s latest thriller with a small level of impish glee. Yes, I thought, he’s getting eviscerated for his shoddy research, bizarre word choice and cookie cutter plots.
But then, as I closed the tab, a little voice in the back of my head asked, “But why do you care?”
And that’s a fair question, why did I care. I’ve never met Mr. Brown and he may very well be a nice person. I know little of him besides his work and I hadn’t read him that much. After all, it didn’t take me long to realize his stories were not for me.
But the truth is that we do love to hate on bad fiction and the authors therein. I’m certainly not alone in this regard. So why is that?
Is it Jealousy?
This is one of the first things often trotted out by the defenders of bad stories.
This is a sentiment echoed across many comments sections, facebook pages and goodreads lists. You can swap out Dan Brown for Stephanie Meyer, E.L. James, the Situation or any other person who might be deemed undeserving of their book deal.
But really, is it?
The truth is that most people aren’t writing a book. Most people don’t want to write a book, even most readers, so why would they be jealous of a person who wanted to write a book and then proceeded to do so?
Now you might respond that book critics are writers themselves and thus are probably much more likely to want to write books than the average person on the street. If you posit book critics as the source of the hate for bad writers (not necessarily true) you could suggest that critics might be jealous.
But the thing is that the talents it takes to publish are transferable. Even when it’s difficult to shift from one medium to another it is do-able with work, perseverance and talent. Most people who care enough to become book critics have those qualities. They have what it takes to successfully get book deals and they regularly do.
So, no, critics aren’t jealous of successful authors. Frequently critics are successful authors.
But what about all those wannabes who want to get published and never do? Aren’t they jealous of Brown & co.?
Perhaps some of them are to some extent. Let’s reflect on this. I’ll use myself as a handy example since I only VERY recently went from wannabe occasional magazine writer guy to guy who has a book deal.
Looking back at my reaction to Brown or to Meyer it’s never been about jealousy. Brown doesn’t write in my genre. He’s not taking “my spot”. Besides which, it’s not like we lack for presses in this world. If you love small presses, and I do love small presses, there have been few times as exciting as we live in now for the sheer diversity of options available.
So, yeah, not jealous.
But I do love a trainwreck.
So is it because it’s funny?
When you consider Sparkledamerung or Gilbert Gottfried reading 50 Shades it’s fully possible that a lot of people hate on “bad” fiction for the LOLs.
And certainly there is lots of humour to be had with the inventive ways that people riff on awful stories.
Ultimately it’s like Sharknado
Yes, it all comes down to a tornado made of sharks. Well, no. But I recall how much fun people seemed to be having on twitter last night watching Sharknado and tweeting out all the really awful bits.
This was a movie that was deliberately written to be awful and to sell.
And therein lies a secret. We don’t always get enjoyment only out of “good” art. Ancient Rome is responsible both for Virgil and for dick jokes scrawled on the walls of Pompeii.
Popular culture isn’t necessarily refined and sometimes our pleasures are guilty. I read part of 50 Shades – it was horrible. And yet I found myself laughing at it. I was in a good mood.
Now mind, I did put it back down again, I felt no urge to read the whole cumbersome trilogy but it didn’t hurt me to have read it. I didn’t lose any sanity points.
I think we read bad fiction for the same reason we read good fiction – because we like it. And just as good fiction produces cultural ephemera around it in the form of fan art, forum posts and good reviews, so does bad fiction.
So, yes, I laughed to see Brown skewered. But considering that I just devoted 800 words to talking mostly about his new book it looks like he probably won because I did.
As a bonus here’s Gilbert Gottfried reading 50 shades!