Listen Jena, I know how much you enjoyed The Hunger Games books. You devoured those things. Then, when we went to Barnes and Noble to try and find something else you could have that much fun reading, we found ourselves unwilling to enter the "Teen Fiction/Fantasy" section. The implication, however wrong, was that to read these books you had to be either a fantasy nerd or a teenager. Suddenly you felt the books you wanted were less than respectable. Something you'd have to shrug about and meekly defend when someone saw you with them. Like ice cream for lunch. A guilty pleasure. I say that perception is wrong and needs to be debunked or the book store's done for.
In Michael Chabon's book of essays, Maps & Legends, he harps quite a bit on the weird preference given to "literary" fiction over the mystery, fantasy, science fiction and romance genres. Why, he would surely want to know, are the works of Arthur Conan Doyle shelved in "Fiction" or "Literary Fiction," when the hoards of detective novels inspired by Sherlock Holmes (some even featuring him) hide in a bookstore's ghetto, the mystery/true crime section?
Maybe the problem isn't the genre sections so much as the "Literary Fiction" section, by implication where all the good books go. If you went to college, we infer, you should be buying your novels from this section. Any other section you'll have to call a guilty pleasure.
But movies aren't organized that way. In rental stores (RIP Blockbuster) and online, movies are sorted based on type: Action, Drama, Comedy, Horror, and so on. What if we had all those sections, then another called FILMS. These would be the movies you watch without guilt. Not Alien 3, but Alien and Aliens. Not the movies of Ed Wood, but Ed Wood the movie. How different would our film browsing be if the way they were sorted was like a class system?
NPR has a series going called My Guilty Pleasure, where "writers talk about the books they love but are embarrassed to be seen reading." It's a fun feature, but I wonder if it also contributes to the problem. Why should these professional writers be ashamed of reading for pure pleasure? There are plenty of things that we really should feel guilty about.
Why do our literary elite dread the death of reading and then scoff at the books that keep non-lit-majors entertained?
G.K. Chesterton hated that so few readers believed there was such a thing as a "good detective story." The truth is that novels started out as "guilty pleasures," something that you read on your way to work or over coffee to distract yourself. Escapism has always been the primary value of stories, and we should be careful not to lose hold of that.
So we've yet to find another novel that thrills you quite as much as Hunger Games, Jena, but at least you're finally enjoying Buffy the Vampire Slayer.