Life’s too short to waste time on unrepentant dicks — but sometimes, you just can’t help yourself. Even when you have far more important things you could be working on, like meeting deadlines on stories that people are actually paying you for. Even when it’s nine o’clock in the morning and you just got home from work, and for the love of God, all you want to do is SLEEP — sometimes, you have to waste time, anyway, because the dickery in question is just too much to bear.
Today’s dick is Jonathan Jones, who wrote a piece for The Guardian charmingly titled, “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius.” (I’ve decided not to link to the article itself, mostly because I’m likely to end up quoting about half of it, but you can easily find it on Google if you’d like to see if my hostility is warranted or not.) In the article, Jones bemoans the supposedly crumbling distinctions between great literature and popular “trash,” particularly in this “age of social media and e-books” — because when you’re whining about how cultural attitudes towards art have shifted towards something you don’t agree with, you really wanna make sure to hit every single box on the checklist that proves you’re an old man essentially yelling at kids to get off your damn lawn. (Note: I do not know if Jones is an old man or not. I decided to do roughly as much research on him as he did on Terry Pratchett before writing his vitriolic bullshit.)
Here is an excerpt from Jones’s article that, I think, captures the thrust of his argument:
“A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom. Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Gunter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions. Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.”
There are a number of problems with this position, not least of which is that this entire article is based on an entirely uninformed opinion, as Jones openly, nay, proudly begins this nonsense by boasting that he’s never read a Terry Pratchett novel. And — listen: it’s easy, sometimes, to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to dissing popular fiction. We’ve all probably done it before. But you don’t get to call an artist’s work “trash” if you haven’t fucking read him.
For instance, I can argue that Twilight wasn’t a well-written novel because I’ve read it and was not particularly impressed by (a) Bella’s Mary Sue qualities and (b) the endless descriptions of Edward’s beautiful eyes. I cannot, however, do the same with 50 Shades of Grey because I haven’t read that book. I may not believe it’s a particularly well-written novel. I may trust reliable sources who have told me I wouldn’t like it. I may never plan to read it, and that’s fine — but I don’t get to say it’s worthless shit that no one should bother with because I haven’t read it for myself. (I also wouldn’t say it in a gleefully malicious article roughly six months after the author’s death, whether I’d read it or not — because there’s a difference, you know, in critiquing a writer’s body of work and figuratively shitting all over their corpse.)
Also, I don’t believe that books break down into only two categories: Great Literature and Worthless Trash. That’s a very narrow and incredibly sad way of looking at the trillions of stories that are out there to devour. If an author wrote a book purely on the hope that it would entertain readers . . . I mean, why is that automatically characterized as “trash”? Is that such a terrible ambition? Can’t an author’s work be worthwhile without her trying to change the world?
And, really, who gets to decide what constitutes trash, anyway? According to Jones, literature changes your life, beliefs, and perceptions . . . but what if there’s a popular novel that has the same effect? I can think of dozens of books that have been hugely important to my life, and very, very few of them are likely to ever be considered literary greatness. I suspect that Jones would have you believe that this is a default to my character, a sign of my mental laziness or inability to comprehend true genius. I would say, “Fuck that noise.” Art is subjective. Value is subjective. Everyone finds worth in different places, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
If you’ll permit me to go back to Twilight for a moment: like I said, I don’t think it’s a good book. It’s certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read, but I never wanted to read any more in the series and have not had much interest in trying anything else by Stephanie Meyer. But I have this writer friend — one, by the way, who generally enjoys far more literary work than I do — that really loves Twilight, and he doesn’t just enjoy it just as a guilty pleasure, either. He actually thinks it’s well-written. Do I think he’s crazy? Definitely sometimes. We often do not agree on taste, but he can and has argued in its defense. I can argue back, sure, that’s fine. I certainly don’t have to agree with him, but who the hell am I to try and tell my friend that he can’t possibly find worth in something just because I don’t?
There’s no wrong genre to draw meaning from, just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. You don’t have to like Terry Pratchett. You don’t have to ever actually read any of his books. But you don’t get to briefly glance at one novel in a shop one time, decide he’s a mediocre piece of crap, and insist that I’m wasting my time valuing him or his career. Terry Pratchett was valuable to me. I find inspiration in his work, and so did a lot of other people. There isn’t anything wrong with that. There isn’t anything wrong in telling, analyzing, or loving different kinds of stories.
Fuck you, Jonathan Jones, you pretentious dick. I think I’ll go ahead and keep re-reading my Pratchett collection, thanks.