The Comfort of Bad Books

... the most allegedly “difficult” novelist of our generation [David Foster Wallace] spending time with a crap paperback thriller. You could say that Wallace, here, was just doing the same kind of thing he did when he spent hours watching television, a medium he once likened, in its pure embodiment of desire, to “sugar in human food.” But he seemed to think there was something else there. In his syllabi, which are all over the web, it turns out he assigned these books to his students. He assigned Joan Collins and Mary Higgins Clark and Thomas Harris. And he cautioned students: “Don’t let any potential lightweightish-looking qualities of the texts delude you into thinking this is a blow-off type class. These ‘popular’ texts will end up being harder than more conventionally ‘literary’ works to unpack and read critically.”Even if we are not talking “literary merit,” whatever that is, the soothing effect of getting lost might in itself have critical value. Some people, when they’re lost, read the Bible; others go for a walk; still others houseclean. Me, like Wallace and his mother, I read an allegedly “bad” book, often one I’ve read before. Michelle Dean, therumpus.

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