The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness. I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction - until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius. The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered - they connect with an audience - or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives. Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books - and thus what they count as literature - really tells you more about them than it does about the book.
Sometimes you’re 23 and standing in the kitchen of your house making breakfast and brewing coffee and listening to music that for some reason is really getting to your heart. You’re just standing there thinking about going to work and picking up your dry cleaning. And also more exciting things like books you’re reading and trips you plan on taking and relationships that are springing into existence. Or fading from your memory, which is far less exciting. And suddenly you just don’t feel at home in your skin or in your house and you just want home but “Mom’s” probably wouldn’t feel like home anymore either. There used to be the comfort of a number in your phone and ears that listened everyday and arms that were never for anyone else, but just to calm you down when you started feeling trapped in a five-minute period where nostalgia is too much and thoughts of this person you are feel foreign. When you realize that you’ll never be this young again but this is the first time you’ve ever been this old. When you can’t remember how you got from sixteen to here and all the same feel like sixteen is just as much of a stranger to you now. The song is over. The coffee’s done. You’re going to breathe in and out. You’re going to be fine in about five minutes.