(Toledo, OH) With a few minutes to kill today I made a trip to A Novel Idea, an excellent used bookstore in Sylvania, OH. For a little more than $18 I walked out with an armload of classic literature, ranging from Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, to W.E.B. Dubois's The Souls of Black Folk.
Yet the classic literature, even in this setting, comprised but a small section of the store's contents. By far the largest component of this store was the area taken up by romance novels.
There were countless rows of this literary fluff, and the Harlequin series received its own subsection. I briefly glanced at a random book in this genre to see if anything had changed since I tried to read one of my grandmother's romance novels in the 1970s.
Nope. Still as formulaic and forgettable as ever.
And yet, as I watched people browsing through the romance section, I began to feel guilty for mentally berating what must be a considerable audience for these books.
And, frankly, who am I to turn up my nose? Danielle Steele certainly outsells the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and at least these folks are reading. What is the harm in reading sappy, predictable novels that get churned out by the millions?
None, that I can see - except that these books provide little in the way of intellectual stimulation - but if they bring some escape and pleasure to someone's life, then I ought to mind my own damned business and quit being an intellectual snob.
Still, if only they would pick up a copy of Crime and Punishment, or maybe Moby Dick...