I’ve been reading for a while now – it’s even crucial to my job – in that time I’ve learnt how a novel, journal, poem, article… whatever you’re reading, can ask questions. After 13 years of school, we’re conditioned to believe that this is just ‘english teacher speak’ and disregard it, but, in a strange reality, it is truth: words on a page can indeed ask something of their audience. I’m able to break these questions down into two categories: the first “are you learning something?”.
We are used to seeing this question, after all, it’s what we write essays or at schools and universities – texts that challenge their world, their context, their readers, their whatever. There is a power to asking this question and making readers think. Austen asked it in ‘pride and prejudice’, Huxley asked it in ‘brave new world’. It is not this question, this “are you learning something?”, “are you being challenged?”, that I am concerned with. I want to look at the other category, and why books that ask that other question are so often academically rejected.
That question is simple: “Are you entertained”. Pretty much every novel that reaches the mainstream asks readers if they’re enjoying themselves, so let’s use one as our case study – Harry Potter. When I read the series in 2007, I was certainly entertained. The first books of the series were read aloud to me by my mother, but as I aged, I was able to devour each addition to the story of Harry and Hermione entirely on my own, which my 7 – year – old self was very proud of. I could answer the question of “are you entertained?” with a definitive yes, and so could children and adults of the 2000’s globally. Aside from flip – phones, it – bags, Paris Hilton and poor fashion choices, JK Rowling’s series is one of the hallmark features of the decade, but I have never seen it studied in a school in the years since the final book was released. Why is that? The illness that Harry Potter suffers from is shared by all texts that ask if readers are entertained – academics disregard it for a lack of depth. In studying a text for the purpose of academic writing this can prove to be an issue, but in academic circles, or at least in schools, texts written solely to entertain are thought of as lesser than their counterparts.
I want to contest this idea. A text written solely for entertainment is just as valid as one that challenges
These two reasons are only precursors for the third: books, poems, journals and articles that simply entertain make the audience experience fun! At the case of literature and culture as a whole, an enjoyable experience serves as a crux; if reading wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t be invented in the first place!
At the end of the day, my takeaway from reading is simple: Just because a book entertains, or is something fun, it is not in any way less than a text one would study in school or academia. Harry Potter is not more base than an Austen, and Hermione and Jane Eyre are, each in their own way, proactive characters. Whatever the question your current read is asking you, if the answer yes, then it’s great writing.