I wonder why so much of “literature” is so boring. Once I read Moby Dick. This is considered to be one the greatest novels ever written. Yet halfway through the novel I had to put it down due to the strain of perpetual boredom. About six months later I took it up again and finally finished, although I was left wondering why so many academics and critics experience squirting ejaculations while reading this work. Melville takes so many digressions from his story to give us a National Geographic like, detailed account of whaling that I nearly impaled myself on whatever instrument resembling a harpoon I came across, which fortunately was none. Still, I found little pleasure in reading this book, except for a few passages here and there.
I once read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and found it utterly enthralling, entertaining and delightful. It was a complete contrast to the dull and ponderous Melville. So this made me wonder why so many of the “great works of literature” are so completely dull and difficult to read, while those of the more popular sort are so much more delightful to read.
I really do not know, and admit this is a completely subjective view. There are plenty of others who enjoy reading these things. However, when it comes to reading fiction, there is one small fact that needs to be addressed, and it is this:
Most statistics show that about 80% of all readers of novels are women. This is true for today, and was most likely similar in the past, although there are no statistics to back this up. We often hear of the criticism in the Nineteenth century about women being corrupted by their Victorian novels. So it is true that women have always made up a large if not great majority of the reading public.
But also in the past, as I have written before, there was a large industry of pulp magazines that appealed directly to male readers. Vigorous and flourishing throughout the first half of the twentieth century, this industry no longer exists. It always fascinates me today that there was once this real and tangible phenomenon, the pulp magazine geared towards men, and that a substantial readership of men existed at one time for fiction, and which has now for the most part faded away. It reveals how men once read for entertainment. Today, with televised sports, video games, and porn, and other avenues for entertainment, this no longer seems to be the case. Sure, there will always be some sort of male readership for fiction, but I would place bets on its small and dwindling numbers. As a matter of fact, if you browse the fiction section of any bookstore, of those that are left, you will see the vast majority of the novels are geared towards women. And I think different desires motivate men and women when it comes to reading fiction.
Men want action. Men want adventure. Men want to be transplanted to strange, heroic, dangerous places where a character can test his limits. Men enjoy reading about unsavory, filthy and amoral characters. Men like violence. Men like sex. Men like beautiful women. These used to be the staple of the old pulp magazines. The girly themes that dominant most modern literature will naturally be devoid of theses qualities.
But I ask myself, why is it that so many of the so called great works of literature in past are often so dull and boring and tedious to read? I think one of the reasons is the academic class that has arisen in the past fifty years or so which dictates to the rest of us what is good and what is not good literature. As Mickey Spillane says, in response to the critics hating his best selling, hard hitting detective novels, “If people like you, your good.” I myself find Spillane a thousand times more enjoyable to read than Melville. The academic class of critics, buttressed by the prestige and aura of Universities, adorned with different degrees, titles and awards, see themselves as the gatekeepers to what is true and honorable in literature. They define for us what is literature. They tell us what we should be reading. They are in the fact that ones who turned reading fiction and stories as a simple source of enjoyment into the more ponderous and obtuse thing called “literature”.
How many young people in high school or colleges have been forever turned away from reading fiction because they had to endure the endless drudgery of reading works that are utterly boring and tedious. There are fewer things more painful than having to read something you find dull and boring. And then, to be told that they are wrong because they find these things boring, and question their value, simply because the priestly class of critics have forever determined that certain works are valuable, while others are not. I simply cannot tell you how many novels I have read that I found utterly dull and boring, but which are considered great and important works of art, while at the same time I have read many novels that, while despised by the critics, I found to be absorbing, entertaining, and very well written, artistic in their own way.
I am not trying to make any sort of definitive statement on these matters, as I said above, each one has his own taste. There are many great and recognized works of literature that are pleasure to read, that are entertaining and engrossing, and plenty of entertaining works of popular fiction that are devoid of artistic merits. But once again my own tastes makes me realize that in reading, as in religion, in the end I need to go with my own instincts, and pursue the things that I enjoy, and not let others define for me what is good, proper and respectable. For me, too much of good, proper and respectable “literature”, the type you might read in a classroom, or promoted by high minded critics, is utterly devoid of excitement and entertainment.