Popular Fiction = Future Classics

Apparently it’s a week for people to grab blog post ideas from the conversations raging over at NewLib-L. I might not have ducked back into the fray but for Colleen, who, as always, writes witty and interesting blog posts reminding us that if you behave in an unprofessional manner on a listserv–people will remember. And since we’re all human, we’ll probably judge you too.

But I have a little lighter fare today, focusing more on whether or not society is falling to pieces because *gasp* popular fiction is what most people are reading. (See NYT Best Seller Lists here for the horror)

I asked the question: “I wonder if there was ever a time that librarians or “the learned” weren’t dismayed to find out that patrons/regular people liked to read exciting adventure stories. “

Overall, many of us are amazingly regular reading creatures. We like adventure, a little bit of the fantastic, surprise, romance and the potential of a happy future at the end of the book. The bad guys are captured, the good guys rewarded. And this is, to a great degree, a lot of what happens in popular fiction. A detective finds the missing money, a marriage is proposed, a killer is stopped/discovered, friends are hanging out again, there is hope for the future. I could point to any number of popular authors or syndicated television shows that follow this pattern.

What then becomes “classic literature?” What are the “great books of the ages?” As I mentioned in my post about Dr. Crichton’s passing, this is a topic I like to revisit occasionally. What that the lofty among us consider “mere popular fiction” today will ascend to “classic” in one hundred years? What will our great-grandchildren’s grandchildren be forced to read that we couldn’t get enough of when it first came out?

Personally, I’ll still argue for Neal Stephenson and Michael Crichton. The former as being able to blend epic story with more math and science than I ever faced down in the classroom; the latter for heavily researched tales that took on all manner of scientific possibility. I could see Tom Clancy joining the ranks, though more as an example of period literature that could be studied for insight into governmental happenings, international relations, etc rather than perhaps a true classic. And don’t make me answer what a true classic is, I’m not really sure. (This after not only an MLS but also a BA in English Literature.)

But I have found that there is nothing like sticking a Newbury or other award winning sticker on a book to sink the circulation rates. Kids don’t respond especially well to the implied condescending tone of a group of adults telling them it’s a Good Book that they Should Read. And yet, we assume adults are different? Granted, adults are a smidge less likely to let a gold sticker turn them off (and certainly as parents they look for those stickers when choosing for their own children) but the condescension remains. Librarians often get the joy of trying to explain that no, really, just because it’s a classic story it’s not that dry. I promise the original Three Musketeers is a delightful romp of manly men doing manly things in a time of men being men and women being….spies among other things. I have a harder time with Moby Dick but that’s just my inability to get past the first 100 pages…

So I appeal to you–what will become our future classics? What will go by the wayside? Shoot me an email or a comment and I’ll post a summary of responses in the coming weeks.