When I was in high school I used to brag that I didn’t own a book by a living writer with the exception of Anne Rice. When I was in college I used to boast that I didn’t own any contemporary writers besides Anne Rice and Tom Robbins. I mistakenly thought the only way to be a serious reader was to read dead authors. I reveled in reading classics and avoided anything published since I was born.
After college I started reading books that matched my music interests, goth writers like Neil Gaiman and Poppy Z. Brite and Brit-pop writers such as Martin Amis and Irvine Welsh (although Welsh is Scottish). While they were all living and currently writing, they still weren’t the insane juggernauts that make the bestseller list for weeks. I wasn’t reading indie writers but I still tended to shy away from bestsellers – especially books as popular as The DaVinci Code. Sounded boring. The cover was boring. It was a hardback bestseller forever. Then a special illustrated hardback edition was released a year later. I wondered why they would need to illustrate it. For the first time I picked it up and read the description. I was seduced. I can’t speak to the art of the book; I’m not sure I’d classify it as literature, but it’s fun. And scary. While reading a tense scene in The Deception Point, my heart started to race and I started to get sweaty. Over a fictional story! Again, I’m impressed any time a book can physically alter my body.
Reading such common bestsellers is amazing – sometimes they’re popular because they’re just that good. Another writer that I steered away from for no particular reason was Stieg Larsson. It wasn’t until I saw a poster for the main character, Lisbeth Salander that I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and read the cover. Huh, female punk rock computer hacker? Tough? Kicks ass? Yes, please!
I like waiting for the next book in a series to come out. I enjoy being part of a large group of people who have read the same thing. I savor feeling like a member of society that beckons back to Charles Dickens‘ time, when everyone read the same thing. There’s something very reassuring about reading something that is so popular and realizing that other people feel the same way I do. It reminds me that I have something in common with millions of people. We’ve all dedicated a reasonable amount of our time to the same thing, to the same characters, to the same ideas. Perhaps we don’t all agree on the author’s intentions, but we were all there for the outline.
Of course there’s always the downside to reading such bestsellers. There are novice readers, the ones who never read anything, but pick it up because it’s so popular. And then, they discuss it in the break room before I’ve finished reading it (because I was already reading a book when said book was released). And the worst is when they continue to talk about it and think they are speaking in code about the book, but you figure it out anyways. I still wrinkle my nose at a girl because she revealed how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ends.
There are also people who ask if I got to the part where…insert death of a major character. NO! I have not and I will now forever wrinkle my nose at you too!!
For the most part, it’s nice to feel solidarity with society over a book, even better when it’s art. It’s comforting to know we all have at least this one thing in common regardless of who we are, what we do, or what we look like.