Writing Fear Free

That’s Entertainment (with Apologies to Mrs. Gillham and Herman Melville)

Entertainment is important; why else would people spend so much money on it?

I write novels that are meant to entertain.

There. I said it.

Actually, I’ve said something similar before in my post about comedies versus tragedies and their perceived merits in the literary world, and this entry is tangentially related. As part of researching various book markets, I read a lot of reviews on Amazon and BN, and I’ve noticed something that I find odd: many reviewers of entertainment-type novels feel the need to state that a particular book is meant for entertainment and then they write as if they feel guilty for liking it. They might write something like, “This book wasn’t a great literary work and was really just brain candy, but it totally sucked me in.”

Why do people feel compelled to write that? I’ve wondered about this, and here’s what I’ve come up with. Ever since high school, readers have been told what books are of literary value and which ones are the brain candy, and we are praised for liking Herman Melville (I never managed to finish Moby Dick), but frowned upon for also liking Agatha Christie or Nora Roberts. We wave our weighty tomes around in public, but hide the romance novels. We’ve started seeing literature as the equivalent of bran flakes, as Chris Baty says. We feel that we should only be reading books that have been deemed “good for us.”

Well, I contend that entertainment novels are also of value. Allow me to deviate a bit here. What do you spend your money on? You spend money on food, your house or apartment, your clothing (unless you’re a nudist), and entertainment. Now, maybe entertainment is not a life-or-death necessity, but the very fact that so much of our budgets and time are comprised of entertainment–vacations, TV, movies, video games, outings, books–then that must expose a basic human compulsion to relax, have fun, and enjoy life without worrying all the time about the stresses and trials we face daily.

All novelists–with varying degrees of success, I admit–are tackling an enormous job when they put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). They are trying to create a world, evoke emotions, and take readers on a journey, and that is not an easy task. Moby Dick may be read (or at least the first line anyway) by students the world over, but even the “brain candy” can provide something of value: hours of pleasure, escape, and even emotional catharsis. So there is also merit in Christie’s brilliant plot twists and even something to be admired in Nora Roberts’s prolific output of beloved romances. Not all books will stand the test of time and be studied hundreds of years in the future as literature, but they can still be appreciated for what they are: entertainment.

I write novels that are meant to entertain. I’m not preaching at anyone, trying to teach the great unwashed masses, or trying to ram my worldview down anyone’s throat, but I do work hard at crafting a good story; creating likeable, quirky characters; and taking readers on a journey in which good triumphs over evil. Maybe my books won’t end up beside Melville in the annals of literature, but I hope they fulfill the purpose for which I wrote them: bringing joy and laughter to the people who read them.

If you’re looking for some good colon-cleansing bran flakes, look elsewhere. Perhaps here.

14 thoughts on “That’s Entertainment (with Apologies to Mrs. Gillham and Herman Melville)

  1. Amen, sister! I get so tired of reading for work that my extracurricular reading is solely for pleasure. If a book doesn’t grab me, I move on to another one. There is great value in escaping into a book and living with those characters for several days (or weeks or even months!). Thanks for your hard work that brings me so much joy!

    1. Oh my gosh, I know exactly how you feel! When I was still editing, especially if I got some big book of theology, I would rush for the brain candy afterward. Proudly. In fact, half the time, I only had the energy to veg in front of the TV with a ridiculous sitcom. And I was thankful for every moment because those books and shows kept me sane.

  2. Good, entertaining fiction IS “good for you” – it helps develop a healthy imagination, which is useful not just for entertainment purposes, but in all aspects of your life and work. I love books that are primarily stories, not lessons. πŸ™‚

    1. Very good point, Liz! Entertainment novels are excellent for the imagination. I’m so glad you posted that.

      And I’m totally with you. I like stories, not lessons, and I get turned off if a book or show suddenly goes all preachy on me.

  3. Ah, Moby Dick. I remember it well. I was 15 and my mother made me read it for Am. Lit (cause I was homeschooled and annoying well read and what not). I said, “Mom, no one has read this book, I’ve even done an independent, non-scientific poll of public library librarians and 0 of them have read it.” My mom said, “finish it and write your report or I’ll flunk you so hard you’ll feel it for years.” Okay, she didn’t say that last bit.

    Truth: Moby Dick is a horrible waste of time. It’s 890 pages and on page 883 the whale kills everyone except the narrator, who wait for it, is not the narrator but he is… Call me Ishmael, my booty. There are entire chapters about lovely subject like skinning and de-blubbering (is that a term? It’s been awhile, I don’t care to reread) the whales. I wanted to gouge out my eyes with a dull spoon by the time I was done. I’ve only hate one book as badly since… (for those with inquiring minds it was Beloved by Toni Morrison, I may have thrown it across the room when I was done. Don’t hate me, I took an entire author focus on Morrison, it was the only one I physically abused.)

    Meanwhile, back to the matter at hand: comedy is harder to do well than drama, and yet the Academy Awards will never award best picture to a comedy. Why? Because people like to feel artsy and pretentious and laughing until you have to pee your pants is not pretentious.

    Plus, something is not good merely because a bunch of critics got together and declared it so. I refer everyone to Pixar’s Ratatouille…there’s an amazing scene/monologue about critics and it is pure genius, wrapped in brilliant, covered in “omg yes.”

    I need to stop now before I REALLY get on a roll, but yes, amen, testify, co-sign.

    Also, Agatha Christie was a BETTER WRITER than Melville. Yeah, I said it.

  4. Totally cracked up — I am just smiling to think that I made a title for your blog and with Herman. *smooches*

    I am proud of you for your writing — I don’t care if you write letters for the garbage company, but the fact that you are a published author makes me all kinds of happy.

    Jessica’s comment. Bwha —

    I love to read period. I admit that I can’t read what I classify as “light” literature too often — but I used to tell all my students — reading, no matter what it is, is the best of time wasters. And when you throw it across the room, great exercise.

    BTW: James Fenimore Cooper used to toss British novels into the fire. πŸ™‚

    I admit I liked MD — but I’m weird.

    Really weird. But you knew that…

    I’m proud to know ya.

    When I get “electric” books, I’ll read what you’ve written — right now, I’m still in the 20th century and flipping pages. I mean by hand — not with a touch screen. πŸ™‚

    Hugs. I’m crazy about you.

    1. We all knew you were weird a long time ago, but anyone who can turn As I Lay Dying into pure comedy has my undying respect. πŸ™‚

  5. Devil’s advocate here – the older I get, the more I appreciate a review that mentions ‘Brain Candy’ of sorts. It helps me to make my dollar decision based on what kind of escapism I’m looking for at the moment. Currently, I’m binging on Sherrilyn Kenyon novels, and counting down till I can see what Sookie Stackhouse drama is percolating down south. The masses have spoken – is there any other reason that Fifty Shades is a best seller? It sure isn’t because it is well written …

    1. You’re probably right about having confirmation of what you’re getting with the “brain candy” label, but I could still live without the shame associated. πŸ™‚

      I’m reading 50 Shades, and it’s not what I’d call brain candy because I’m getting no joy from it.

  6. I will proudly stand up and say I’ve never read Moby Dick. I’ve also never read any of Hemingway. I thought about attempting some of the latter a few years ago, but my strong aversion to depressing endings changed my mind.

    That’s not to say I don’t read the classics. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book, and I’m currently reading my way through all of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I don’t understand the point of forcing myself to read something I won’t enjoy just so I can say I’ve read it.

    1. I’m with you. I am not going to read something just to say I did it. I have better things to waste my time doing.

  7. If a smile is not so important, why is it the FIRST expression that parents try to evoke on their newborn baby’s face? A book that makes me smile is GOOD for me. And surely, I am forgiven if that smile comes from the bad guy getting his dues. PS I like the comment that reading is the best of time wasters.

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