A Rant on Popular Literature

I spend a lot of time on Amazon.com, browsing with the same longing as I would in a Barnes & Noble back home, adding items to my ever-growing Wish List of Future Dreams (they just call it a Wish List…I like to consider its deeper significance).  Amazon does its best to recommend things for you to read/buy, and of course they have off to the side their “Top Sellers.”  Well, for several weeks now that Top Seller list has been dominated by first one, then two, now three Fifty Shades books.
If you don’t know what those are: Fifty Shades of Grey, which somehow started as Twilight fanfiction (I haven’t delved into how that happened, don’t really want to know), is an erotic novel.  If you want to know the plot, Google it.  It became wildly popular when it came out several months ago, mostly among women, which earned it the description “mommy porn.”  It was followed by two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
I think this goes without saying but I just want to let you know that I have not read (and will not read) any of them.  But having seen them on the Amazon Top Sellers list for so long, and being really disgusted at that, I thought I’d check out the New York Times Bestseller list, since that’s supposed to be the most legit measure of book popularity.  Well, guess who’s in the top three spots on “Combined Print and e-Fiction” (in case you didn’t guess, it’s the Fifty Shades books). Spots 4 and 5 are occupied by Gone Girl and Bared to You.  The premise of Bared to You is probably pretty easy to guess, and Gone Girl is a mystery, of which one Amazon reviewer wrote “it makes Catcher in the Rye seem wholesome.”
All of these novels were written by women.  They’re all apparently wildly popular (I’m guessing among women) – in fact, they’re the most popular books in America.  And they’re all…erm…salacious?  Graphic?  Adult?  X-rated?
Is now an appropriate time for me to despair at the current intellectual state of literate adults and the publishing industry?  I realize that ribald literature has always been popular (hello Canterbury Tales), but I always had this (apparently vain) hope that the written word somehow represented an aspiration to conscientious self-awareness and intellectual betterment.   I have foolishly believed that my beloved medium of literature remained largely separate from the same forces that rule movies and TV, as if the deliberate concentration necessary for reading somehow vaccinated it from becoming junk food entertainment.  Yet it appears that the law of supply and demand works here, too; what people want to buy, they get.
I want to believe that literature can be reclaimed; hundreds of beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful books are published every year, but who wants to spend time with thoughtful intelligence when you can spend it with porn?
The final thing I’d like to do in this post is congratulate the female authors who’ve written these bestsellers.  Good job, ladies.  Way to win one for the women.  For hundreds of years, men have dominated the authorship of books, but now thanks to you female authors everywhere can be respected for their creativity and intelligence.
/End Rant.
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