Monday, September 26, 2011

Cotton Candy on Our Shelves

"Fluff" books* get a pretty bad rap in the book industry. The books themselves lack substance. Their characters lack depth or development. Intellectually, they don't have a whole lot going for them; but, they keep selling. We keep buying them. We keep hiding them at the back of our bookcases, sometimes on the bottom shelf. Some people will rabidly defend their choice in reading materials.

What is it about these books that, though they appear to have little value, keeps us coming back and cracking the covers?

As a college student, I don't get to spend much of my time on leisure reading. I barely get to spend any time reading things I choose myself during the semester, actually. When I finally do get to pick up a book... When I've put away my Aristotle, closed my Dostoevsky, and placed my Hemingway on the shelf, the last thing I feel like reading is anything that could possibly be categorized as "a classic." I give a little shiver of horror as I pass Fitzgerald, Lawrence, and Morrison titles in the bookstore.

I used to binge on classics in high school. Sometimes I would spend entire months on Wilde, Austen, and Vonnegut. When I was done, I was sick of books crammed with substance.

Now, like in high school, I turn to books with titles such as Sugar Queen and Rocky Road Break-up. I know they're not going to add anything to society. I know they'll probably fall into obscurity pretty quickly, if they ever make it out of it. I know they aren't exactly good for me. But, after all of those "healthy" books, I just want something that's like candy for my brain. I don't want to be challenged intellectually; I've done that enough already. I want something to lull me asleep. I want the comforting bliss of a neat, happy ending.

At some point, no matter what our reasons, I feel we all want that. So we will continue to tuck books in odd places, only to break them out again after a particularly rough day.

*Fluff books are books that are read for enjoyment alone. They typically don't have an innovative plot, and they don't tend to address controversial issues. They don't really have anything substantial to them.


  1. I guess it is the same with fluff movies - when people don't want to be really involved in watching heavy, challenging movies, then reach out for "Dumb abd Dumber" on the bottom shelf :)

  2. I completely agree. As a student I find myself reading "fluff" pieces all of the time, especially romance novels. They are a quicker and easier read than Shakespeare or Aristole. You have to let your brain rest sometimes. :-)

  3. Well put. I like reading, and I find comfort in curling up with a book, but sometimes I don't have the energy to read something of real substance. On the other hand, I'm not all that ashamed of my 'fluff' books. The way I see it, I work hard and sometimes I need a break. And if I chose to take my break with a book instead of with television or video games, that should still say something. These days, I feel like it is important to be proud of the fact that people read in general, regardless of their choice in books.

  4. Joscelyn, I agree with you. If you enjoy something, especially a book, then you shouldn't be ashamed of it! Unfortunately, people will continue to judge others by the content of their bookshelves.

  5. I would argue that "fluff" books have merit beyond their non-challenging aspects. Sure things like broccoli and whole wheat are healthier than say chocolate cake in terms of the body, but which better feeds the soul? "Fluff" books may not challenge our expectations or comment on society in any life-changing way, but they can make us smile, they can brighten our day, and they can make life's troubles seem a little more bearable.

  6. I totally feel you, Jacque. The best simile I can make to illustrate what you're saying is that fluff books are like reality television. They are guilty pleasure as opposed to intellectual satisfaction. And I say, after all the core reading we do... we deserve to sit down with some commercial "literature" and not be judged for it!