5 December, 2022

Gimbling in the Wabe – Of Things That Really Don’t Matter


It’s going to be a pretty short Gimbling in the Wabe this week, not because I’ve suddenly lost my gift of gab, or had an epiphany that brevity really is the soul of wit.  It’s because what I feel like addressing is quite simple.JK Rowling2

It started with a sudden hoopla on social media about how J. K. Rowling had divulged that she didn’t read “chick lit”, fantasy or science fiction.  One would think that the end of times had come with all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that occurred on Twitter and Facebook and the like following this acknowledgement.  How could the Queen of All That Is Cool and Right With the World not like fantasy or science fiction?  Hadn’t she written one of the most fantastical literary series ever known to fankind?  How could Jo do this to us???

I’m not sure why this “disclosure” is resurfacing now.  Maybe it’s because the television adaptation of her first post-HP work (The Casual Vacancy) debuted recently on the BBC, so this quote got dredged up during the trolling that many media sites do when trying to generate a buzz.  Who knows?  But the damning quote of the moment actually came during a 2012 interview Ms. Rowling gave to the New York Times:

(Question:)  Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with?

(J. K. Rowling:)  “Can’t be bothered with” isn’t a phrase I’d use, because my reading tastes are pretty catholic. I don’t read “chick lit,” fantasy or science fiction but I’ll give any book a chance if it’s lying there and I’ve got half an hour to kill. With all of their benefits, and there are many, one of the things I regret about e-books is that they have taken away the necessity of trawling foreign bookshops or the shelves of holiday houses to find something to read. I’ve come across gems and stinkers that way, and both can be fun.

In that same interview, she invokes works by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, political journalist Auberon Waugh and crime writer Val McDermid, mourns that she feels her response to poetry is “inadequate”, says she’d like to meet Charles Dickens if forced to pick one writer to meet (narrowly beating out Colette), that Jo March from Little Women is the character she most admires, and if she could be any literary character, she would be Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, “naturally”.

What’s not to be admired in admissions such as these?  How can anyone wring their hands if their literary hero shows such diverse and erudite tastes?  Do any of these insights make the Harry Potter books any less wonderful?  Does her candid and honest answers diminish any of her works whatsoever, whether they be Harry Potter or The Casual Vacancy or her Coroman Strike novels?

No, not in the least.  What an author reads and enjoys personally has no bearing on the merits of what they write.  If J. K. Rowling has never and will never read The Mists of Avalon or I, Robot or American Gods, one thing is certain:  this “omission” certainly didn’t hinder her from producing what many feel is the superlative fantasy series of all time.

After all, she’s didn’t say that science fiction and fantasy (and, okay, chick lit) are inferior to what she prefers to read.  They simply don’t interest her, as a reader.  Period.  No qualification attached.

It’s like the brouhaha that erupted about a year ago when Ruth Graham wrote in a Slate article that “you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” which sparked a furious debate on whether adults should be reading YA literature.  This formed the basis for another Gimbling in the Wabe that I wrote in June 2014, and my response then is basically the same as it is today.

It doesn’t matter.

It really doesn’t.  You like what you like to read, period.  If you push yourself outside your casual boundaries, so be it, good for you.  But what you read purely for enjoyment?  That’s yours, regardless of qualification or critique from anyone else, for any reason.  And it’s all good.

J. K. Rowling herself once said, “I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” Not “a good book as long as it’s not fantasy or science fiction.” Simply, “a good book.”

Uh huh.  Like I said.  Now – go out there and read something magical; read something that, for you, is good!