Don’t Call Books “Trashy”…Even If They Are.

The word “trashy” irks me.

There’s just something inherently disrespectful about it and, not so deep down, I’m terrified that it will be applied to my work. I’m afraid that because I love writing young adult fiction – instead of what my English Major brain might consider “literature” – my work will be dismissed as money making “trash.”

On the other hand, there definitely is such as thing as bad writing. I’ve picked up books (either physically or digitally), read the first paragraph or two, gagged, and put them back down. Some books really are just poorly written and we, as readers, should be able to express our discontent. After all, if we don’t say anything, how will the writer know their work isn’t doing what they’d like it to?

So, if we have a right to say what we want and could even be helping the author improve, why am I so bothered?

Give Constructive Criticism

Maybe it’s because most criticism is so general.

If we’re going to use the “it’s for their own good” rationale, let’s make our comments actually useful. Calling a book “trashy” isn’t helpful. Saying that a book’s prose was cumbersome and its plot was trite and predictable might be hurtful, but at least the author has specific feedback they can think about.

Giving good constructive criticism is challenging. It requires us to identify what we didn’t like about a text, which takes thought and energy that we may not want to devote to a book we didn’t enjoy. That’s fair. The other thing we can take from constructive criticism, however, is: be respectful.

If you’re not willing to show your respect by thinking about a work, give the author the benefit of the doubt and just say, “I didn’t like it,” rather than, “it was terrible.” The difference between opinion and “factual pronouncement” is huge.

Be Discriminating and Unashamed

The other thing about the word “trashy” that bothers me is that it gets applied to entire genres. There are: trashy romance novels, trashy teen novels, and trashy fantasy or science fiction novels.

“What’re you reading?” I’ve asked my mother.

“You know,” she’s said, “another trashy romance novel.”

By calling the book she’s reading “trashy” herself, she’s protecting herself from the accusation of frivolity. It’s like saying, “I know reading this doesn’t have any intellectual value but I enjoy it anyway.”

If I examined my feelings in that moment, I suspect I would find two responses. First, don’t be afraid to like what you like. If you enjoy it then it’s worthwhile. Second, I’m sure there are romance novels that she’s read that are incredibly well written and deserve to be acknowledged.

For example, while children’s books are often considered “not intellectual,” The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, was not only one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the last year, I think it was one of the best written (including books I read last fall for Senior level English classes).

Basically, just keep this in mind: most authors spend weeks, months, or even years of their life crafting their story. Taking the time to really examine what we liked or didn’t like about a book, judging each book individually rather than condemning an entire genre, and (failing both of those) at least being nice – seems like the least we can do.

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