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10. Why read (best-sellers)?

For the literary snob the bookshop is a battleground of culture; once through the door they must wade through a wasteland of best-selling books, complete with lurid covers, raised fonts and ridiculous titles, to reach the classics or foreign language section at the back of the shop.  Yet, the book snob would do we well to tread carefully though the shrapnel of this literary wasteland.

Much debate and far too many lines of review have been wasted on the Fifty Shades trilogy.  However, I would argue that Fifty Shades, and its best-selling neighbours, not only give us an indicator of the latest, fleeting, literary trends, but, in doing so, explain a lot about us and the world we live in.   We can no longer tag decades and centuries of the written word with discerning titles, such as romanticism, realism, gothic, modernism and post-modernism.  That our literary trends are so fleeting is the defining feature of our culture and society; the best-seller table is a real hodge-podge of literature.

Today the written word must vie with other art forms, such as film.  Walk into any cinema, flick through Sky Movies, and you will see the ravages of war, epic battles, fantastical lands and steamy erotic scenes.  Today’s best-seller is a book that has achieved its status through entertaining a reader who has easy-access to sensory overload – the book doesn’t just grab you, it must body slam you.

So, it is no wonder that Fifty Shades, a book that has reinstated erotic literature into our fold, has found its home on the best-selling table.  It is no wonder that Games of Thrones, with its world of epic fantastical battles, lewd incest and deep sorrow, has similarly won over the masses.  Our culture today has no defining literary form, it is not about a style of writing or genre.  Instead, what defines our culture, in all its art forms, is the need for an injection of adrenalin, a dose of emotion, a life booster.

I was born and bred a literary snob: at primary school I cried my way through Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, my adolescence was spent tangled up in the intertextuality of T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland, and I spend my English literature degree at Oxford speed-reading the classics section.  I am now an avid reader of Game of Thrones, I need my hit of literary heroin as much as the next person.  My pangs of shame are soothed by the knowledge that I am one of the masses, a product of society and culture, and I hope an integral part of it.

Anna Stewart

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