I ran across a comment on an agent’s blog the other day, in response to a post about how writers feel when they see bad books getting published. It went something like this:
I used to get frustrated and resentful when I didn’t get a bite for my own much better books. But I finally accepted that, the majority of people, all through history, have preferred inferior entertainment to genuine art. Genuine art challenges you, and a lot of people don’t like to be challenged; they just want to be titillated.
So now I accept that I’m not writing for the masses. I don’t need to care about what they like. There are enough people like me to give my books a modest but discerning audience.
It also encourages me to remember that once in a while, a truly fantastic book becomes a bestseller. So the masses do have some sense, after all.
I just want to say, for the record, statements like the above really chap my ass. Oh, let me count the ways:
1.) “Good” and “better” are subjective terms. Do we mean profound subject matter? Elegant prose? Creative approach to storytelling or the craft of writing? Is a book only “good” if it makes us laugh? Cry? Think? Wakes us up to a social ill that needs to be acknowledged?
What if we just want to take a break from the stresses of daily life, the horrors on the nightly news, and the tragedies in our own lives and just read something purely for entertainment? Is this no longer “good?”
Let me tell you, I’ve read some of the “best” books in both the classics and modern times and came away ready to slit my wrists. Is A Thousand Splendid Suns “better” than Sanderson’s Way of Kings because the first was monumentally depressing, though well written and on the topic of suffering we know is genuinely occurring, while the second was well written, fascinating, but pure fantasy?
Which plays right into:
2.) Don’t want to be challenged? Well, actually, I’m not going to apologize for wanting my entertainment to be… entertaining.
3.) The contempt for the audience, the sheer arrogance of proclaiming the STILL READING public to be little more than a mindless mass is just… well, it’s just something not very nice that I’m not going to say.
But if I knew an author felt that way, I wouldn’t read his or her book, I don’t care if it was the Bible. Shoot, even God has a little humility.
4.) Who holds the copyright on the definition of “genuine art?” I mean, really. Some of what is called “art” I call crap. And sometimes crap (literally) is called art. I’m glad you think your book is “genuine art” but, quite frankly, there’s no universal truth that is “genuine art.” Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong, I think my book is great. I think it’s good writing, and I think it addresses issues that are pertinent to our times and our social consciousness. I think it’s more than “titillating” and that it wouldn’t kill a “discerning audience.”
And it has spaceships.
Quick! Call the Genuine Art police.