Is it Popular?


I just bought The Passage. I still haven’t bought Witz yet, but I bought The Passage. It’s the most heavily marketed book in recent memory. It’s the publishing industry’s next great white hope. I had to see what all the hubbub was about. Usually I hate the idea of reading popular fiction. I’ve go no desire to read a Stieg Larsson book, and that’s for no particular reason other than it’s in the hand of every person on the train, on the shelf at every bookstore, on the front page of every bookstore’s website. I hear Stieg Larsson’s a good read, a storyteller guaranteed not to bore. I’ve got no other reason to dislike it other than everyone is reading it. If I was forced to read the Twilight books right now I think I’d seriously consider jumping out the nearest window.

My girlfriend wants me to read Harry Potter. I really don’t want to. I’ve got nothing against Harry Potter. I like the movies. I just feel like it would be a gigantic waste of time for me to jump into Harry Potter as I’ve got “more important” books on my to-read list. We’re doing an exchange. I’ll read Harry Potter if she reads something I choose for her. I haven’t decided what yet. Maybe Witz.

So what this impulse boils down to is that I think my taste is better than everyone else’s in terms of popular fiction. Either that or it stems from a fear of being perceived as one of the unwashed masses consuming the candy of the literary world. In either case, it’s a stupid impulse. You should just like what you like and not give a shit what anybody else thinks.

Do you hate books just because they’re popular? Where does the impulse come from? Is it jealousy that people are reading things that you haven’t written?


  1. davidpeak says:

    i like this post.

    i’m actually really looking forward to this:

    and dude, harry potter 3, 4 and 6 were fucking amazing. believe the hype.

  2. Roxane says:

    I used to hate books because they were popular but then I realized it was pretty pretentious to be so forcedly counterculture and also, the only one missing out was me. I’m glad I got over myself because otherwise I wouldn’t have discovered the amazingness of Dan Brown.

  3. chris says:

    Yeah, I need to get over myself too. One thing is I’m kinda worried that I’ll like them TOO much. There was a period of time where I was way into Star Wars and I almost got into reading the offshoot novels. That’s a bullet I’m glad I dodged. Who knows what small crevice of nerdery I’d be in now if I went down that rabbit hole…

  4. michelle says:

    nice to know you think your preferences in reading are “better than everyone else’s in terms of popular fiction.” take your own advice & get over yourself. i highly agree. 😉
    i once was like you, and sometimes still am, about choosing not to read what everyone else is reading. but maybe there’s something to it. we would all like to think we’re so different than everyone else, but sometimes it’s nice to connect to people you don’t know and find a common ground, even if it is Harry Potter.
    what’s amazing about Harry Potter is that it blends curiosity with excitement. that world is so mystical and interesting that i would find myself daydreaming (and pretending??) that we actually lived in a world like that.
    it sparks imagination, and that my friend, is something you should support.
    <3 m

  5. Elliot says:

    Even though it’s a terrible mentality, I would never touch anything from a writer like Rowling, James Patterson, Tom Clancy etc. just because they are mass market writers. Same thing with music, just because something is on the radio I’ll automatically never want to listen to it again.

  6. Erin says:

    My husband reads all of the offshoot Star Wars novels. I can assure you, that crevice is full of nerdery.

    If the word of mouth is good enough I’ll give anything a try. But I suspect I am a subconscious snob because when I do read a bestseller, I always feel like I’m acutely aware of the fact — in a way that I’m not when I read indie.

    One thing that makes me very happy about The Passage, besides the fact that it really is an enjoyable read, is that all the bestseller hype will fuel people’s willingness to read other books like that which are just as worth their time — as I think happened with Harry Potter, Twilight, and then YA in general. I can’t wait until someone laments to me that the next book in Cronin’s series is a year or two away, because then I’ll get to recommend they check out half a dozen other authors in the meantime — and I’ll get some good recommendations, too.

  7. chris says:

    I guess this is what I’m interested in. What about it being “mass market” makes it automatically bad? Who’s to say the mass market isn’t onto something?

  8. ravi says:

    I think it depends. No interest in the writers who turn out a new book every sales quarter. Apparently Patterson just writes the outline and then passes it along to another writer to fill in the words. The HP books are good, at least they feel inspired. Popularity wouldn’t stop me from reading the Cronin book, though the leather jacket/popped collar getup in the author photo might. Come on, man.

  9. chris says:

    Haha, I haven’t seen the author photo yet. Leather jackets are always a bad decision unless you’re behind the controls of a machine with an engine larger than 150 cc.

    That’s kind of nuts about James Patterson. It’s so beyond my realm of understanding that you can commodify writing like that. Guess it’s just like everything else that gets turned into a commodity. I’d be interested to see if Patterson even cares about what he’s writing, if that factors at all into his process, or if he simply just treats it like a job trading stocks. Sell what people are buying.

    Holy crap that’s an amazing video on his website:

  10. James says:

    I like all the honesty about the why …

    Personally, I think we tend to act that way because we define our value by what we associate ourselves with — clothing, brands, bands, beliefs, actions, inactions, movies, other people, etc.

    Some people might avoid “popular” things because they believe that those things are associated with people who they do not want to be perceived as — such as “the masses” or “sheep” or so forth. Ironically, they almost always then assimilate into a smaller “non-popular” sub-culture that includes others who share their common interests AND disinterests — and in the end, again, popularity sneaks its way into.

    Simply — I think it’s like the goth movement. The grand opening of the first Hot Topic in the local mall must have been a darker day than usual for many goths. Skateboarding is another example… maybe MMA is next? And then Annalemma? :)

    Personally — I think it’s futile to try to “not care” what others think … it’s impossible to avoid as you just end up caring that people see you as someone who doesn’t care — oops.

    So just continuing figuring out who’s opinion matters most to you — and focus and refocus on that. After awhile, all the stuff on the peripheral will begin to fade.

  11. chris says:

    I’d consider it an accomplishment if Annalemma could reach a backlash level of popularity.

    That’s an interesting perspective, James. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way. It is impossible to not care. I think I’ll always care what my family and friends think about me to some degree.

    I think when it comes to things as relatively trivial as books and literature, it’s stupid to be worried about what you like and don’t like might be perceived. Regardless of how you or I feel about Clive Cussler, he’s still going to sell a shit ton of books.

  12. Nathan Goldman says:

    I definitely understand the desire to avoid the most popular mainstream literature. For me I think it has less to do with jealousy over the fact that people are reading something I didn’t write than frustration at how little talent (as I subjectively judge it, anyway) has to do with popularity. Though plenty of great writers do get the acclaim they deserve (for me this list includes Orson Scott Card and John Steinbeck), many do not. For me it will always be tragic that Dan Brown is a household name and David Foster Wallace isn’t (and that’s comparing a famous writer to one who was extremely successful by most standards).

    This does connect to my own writing in this way: I strive always to be a better writer; but if the writers I think are best are not necessarily the ones achieving widespread success, what hope do I have to make a living as a writer? It’s not even an issue of fame – the most popular writers get the most readers (though maybe not the most dedicated ones, which is another issue); in a just world, shouldn’t it be the BEST writers getting the most readers? (I know “best” in any art form is totally subjective.)

    But I don’t mean to imply all mainstream authors are bad. All seven Harry Potter books are among my favorite books ever. (I had the unique pleasure of growing up just about alongside Harry, which I’m sure made a difference; when the last book came out I was 15). Controversy aside and treating it as a piece of creative nonfiction, I liked A Million Little Pieces. Sometimes quality and popularity do line up.

    I do think a major advantage of being able to look past a book’s popularity and give it a shot is that, if you end up liking it, there are a lot more people around to talk with about it, and that can be a really enriching experience. When Harry Potter 7 was released, for a few weeks I felt like the entire world was a book club. I went to a concert the night after, and 80% of the people waiting in line were reading it (including the woman at the box office). The effect was this bizarre and beautiful, like a momentary world peace.

  13. chris says:

    That’s an interesting experience that I’d like to try. With reading, I always feel like a dude lost on an island sometimes. Only a few times a year to I encounter someone who’s reading or read the same book I have and I get excited. I been in a book club once. We read Savage Detectives. That was pretty awesome.

    I think overall I don’t really care what books people are reading as long as they’re reading. Anything that drags them away from the glowing rectangle for a few hours is always a good thing. Fuck it. I diving into HP tonight.

  14. Nathan Goldman says:

    Godspeed! If you can’t stand the writing style try and hang on till Book 2. While rereading Book 1 last summer I realized how much just the prose style really evolves from book to book.

  15. ryan says:

    i ran a children’s bookstore for two years. i read the first few pages of all the harry potter books and the writing bugged me so much i didn’t even bother. really, i’m all about reading stuff that i’m intrigued by or interested in. if something comes up that intrigues me i’m going to read it no matter the author or “genre” or anything. for me it just happens to be mostly not wizards and fantasy stuff that interests or intrigues me.

  16. Tim says:

    I’m often hopeful about popular books–hopeful that they’ve charmed so many people because they’re genuinely great–but then am often disappointed.

    Maybe your aversion to pop fiction is less about pretension and more about a fear that you’re missing something glowing softly behind the burning beacons of popular books’ literary light. I mean, we all need quests in our lives, and a quest to find underappreciated lit has got to be better than a lot of others.

  17. chris says:

    Hey Tim. That’s definitely one of my quests in life. I started reading HP and find myself involuntarily sighing after I turn each page. I don’t think it’s an issue of pretension, but more of what Ryan’s talking about. One of taste. I’d simply rather be reading things that appeal to me. And I think the timing’s way off for me and Harry. The market of HP is so saturated, the imagers already ingrained in my brain. I’m going to finish it, just cause I’m stubborn like that, I only hope I enjoy it a bit more as the story goes on.

  18. michelle says:

    duuuuuude. stop writing about how you’re reading Harry Potter and READ it already.

  19. chris says:

    duuuuuude. okay, I’m reading, I’m reading :)

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