No Love of Milton if Not for Loving Frivolous Fiction

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No Love of Milton if Not for Loving Frivolous Fiction

When I displayed my more modest personal bookshelf, featuring shiny-foiled fantasy and colorful young adult novels, he bemoaned, “My dad won’t let me read anything un-classic. He thinks it’s a waste of time.”

I was immediately indignant over his dad’s attitude. How could you own so many books, yet deride almost every genre? But how would I, a high schooler, have more valid tastes than a scholar and elevated press editor?

Most of the books in my house are bright and sparkly, characterizing my reader origins: Rainbow Magic, Candy Apple, Dork Diaries, Popularity Papers. Motifs include magical creatures, “distracting” font choices, unrealistic high school drama, crushes, mean girls. Also present is a subsection of young adult, with the same elements. I devoured these wastes of time.

But today, I whittle away at classics, fully appreciative of their cultural significance and artistry. My recent leisure reads include Austen, Beckett, Hugo and Neruda. Next to heist fantasy “Six of Crows,” social media teen romance “Tweet Cute,” and graphic novel “Pumpkinheads,” of course. Such “frivolous” genre reads can be meaningful in their own right, offering breaks from the density of both classics and real life. Most importantly, they’re fuel for the reading habit that’s significantly linked to success and well-being.

This habit is created, as described by editor Pamela Paul, by experiencing reading not as “spinach,” but as “chocolate cake”— not necessarily full of nutrients, but deliciously addictive. (Perhaps the spinach becomes chocolate cake: Homer’s “Odyssey” after reading “Goddess Girls,” “Pygmalion” after “Princess Diaries,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” after “Her Evil Twin.”)