Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Reader's Coming of Age

When I first started in publishing I was fresh-faced and fresh out of college. While I had spent my summer reading commercial fiction like John Grisham, Michael Connelly, and, yes, Bridges of Madison County, I somehow had the impression that as a recent college grad, or just an intelligent woman, I should be reading more intelligent books (whatever that means). In other words, I should be catching up on the classics I missed out on as a journalism major or reading only books that incited great philosophical discussions. The irony of that sort of thinking is that one of the reasons I got my first job as an editorial assistant with Berkley Publishing is that I was reading exactly the types of books they published. I was reading commercial fiction and they were looking for someone just like me. They didn’t want to hire someone who had spent the summer reading The Celestine Prophecy, Dickens, or To Kill a Mockingbird. They wanted an editor who understood the market for the books they were publishing.

Well, it took me a long time to accept and advertise the fact that I was a commercial fiction girl. Some of that could be because of the reactions I received when hired for my new job (laughter and disdain about romance novels), and some of that could have been my age. See, like all young women (like all young people), I think it took me a while to come into my own and really accept myself for who I am. Sure, I can read and enjoy Dickens just as easily as the rest of you. But I don’t have to. Because what I really want to read, when I have the chance to read, is what some of you might refer to as a good old-fashioned bodice ripper, or what others have called “trash.” I’m no longer embarrassed to carry a steamy book on the subway or to the doctor’s office. In fact, often I’ll carry the steamiest book I can find, simply to advertise my clients. It helps now to be confident in who I am and prepared to defend the books I love. It also helps that I make a good living off of them [wink].

I think all readers evolve and grow over time and eventually find their niche. I hear often from those who read only fantasy as young people and now have grown to read different kinds of fiction, and I hear from others who still can’t stomach commercial fiction but love nothing more than to cuddle into a long classic. Some typically enjoy longer literary works, but when life is tough or getting them down, they will pull out a favorite romance or thriller. What we read and when we’re reading it can say a lot about who we are in that time of our life, just like the music we listen to and the movies we watch. Did I ever tell you how much Sex Pistols I listened to in my angst-ridden teen years or the number of times I’ve seen The Breakfast Club?