I don’t have the answer to this. I have read my share of crap. I have also read my share of “important” literature. As an English major, I was assigned everything from Invisible Man (at least 4 different times) to The Female Quixote to Paradise Lost to The Color Purple. I did not enjoy all of these. And as an unrefined college student who drank boxed wine and had an old couch on my front porch, I didn’t really even appreciate why I was assigned these books. I may have done some serious skimming of the works I found less compelling (I’m talking to you, Invisible Man).
As an adult who need not adhere to a list of required reading material, I find myself choosing books that I hope to be meaningful, to add something to my mental inventory of great writing – but not necessarily books that my English Lit professors would have assigned. I don’t usually read fluff, not because I’m a snob who is above Nicholas Sparks, but because it’s much easier to play Mario Kart than wade through crap.
That being said, yesterday I finished reading an extremely fluffy book, Confessions of a Shopaholic, which I bought in an attempt to recover from the very depressing Sarah’s Key, followed by Revolutionary Road. (Both great books that I will keep on my “read again” shelf, but both major downers.) I thought some chick lit would lighten my mood. And maybe if Confessions hadn’t been such a terrible book, it might’ve served that purpose. Would my time have been better spent playing Yahtzee on my iPod than reading that book? Was reading that book better than reading nothing at all?
On a related note, a friend sent me this list today, the BBC’s Top 100 Books. I’d read maybe 30 of them, and I have several of them on my shelf that I’ve never opened. A lot of these books are considered classics. Some are just entertaining reads (Bridget Jones’s Diary, anyone?). The list reminded me of a number of books that I’ve meant to pick up over the years that I have never gotten around to reading. I think that the next time I’m tempted to select a paperback from the Shopaholic series, I’ll consult the list instead.