Last week, my colleague, Naheed, wanted to start a discussion on eBooks vs. real books, but it took off in another direction altogether. The discussion evolved (on Facebook) into a conversation about the romance genre, and how many people look down on it.
It was pointed out in the comments that all the classics of today were ‘popular fiction’ in their day. The best writers always write for the masses—if you want to reach the wider audience, then you need to speak their language. High-brow, pretentious works of philosophy and deep social meaning may get you accolades from critics, but how many people will actually buy your book, let alone read it?
Personally, I feel that popular fiction, or ‘easy-read’ fiction, has a crucial role to play in South Asia. This part of the world is poor, with limited access to recreation other than movies and TV. In almost all of these countries, literacy levels are low, and newer generations rarely read (I’m speaking generally here). The two biggest functions that popular fiction will serve for us are to encourage reading habits among the population, and to temporarily carry us away from the drudgeries of our daily lives.
I’d rather see children (and adults, for that matter) with a book in their hands than a computer game, or glued to the TV. Even if they’re reading a romance novel (who doesn’t want to, at any age, flip to the ‘juicy’ bits?), at some point they will pick up something more taxing. But fiction, and easy reading in particular, are essential if we want generations who are willing to use their imaginations, to fantasize, to dream. They are essential if want our people to respect books, and not hate them (have you seen the schoolbag of a child in the first grade? They weigh more than the child itself, and just get heavier through the years!). They are essential if we don’t want young adults who are already tired of life at the age of twenty because they have no respite from the seriousness of their lives.
Romance, fantasy, crime—trash books are popular (NOT a dirty word), and they’re fun. What’s so wrong with having a little fun in our lives?