Do Good Books Drive Out Bad Books?

One of my husband’s favorite sayings to the kids is “Bad food drives out good food!”  He particularly enjoys saying this as they ask for a second dish of ice cream, shortly after they’ve whined about eating a second baby carrot.

I agree with him in theory – who would choose Brussels sprouts over a big pack of McDonald’s fries? – even as I commiserate with the kids.

I am wondering lately if the same theory – or its opposite – may be true of books.

Lisa has a quote on her blog that I love:  Reading good books ruins you from enjoying bad books.

In my case, I think that’s definitely true.  I spent my formative reading years in the ’70s, before much of the “light” kids’ lit of today existed.  There were no babysitter’s club books then, nothing of that sort.  No, I grew up reading Little Women and Girl of the Limberlost.

I remember one Sunday at church, a Sunday School “buddy” (I use that term loosely) quietly smuggled me a Harlequin Romance book, pronouncing it “the best book I’ve ever read!”

Well.  I began reading the book that afternoon, and honestly I couldn’t make it past the first five pages.  It was just – horrendous.  People actually read stuff like this?  Where was the poetry?  Where was the description?  Where was the appeal?

When I began teaching school, I always happily handed out the Trumpet Club book order form.  Trumpet feature “quality” children’s lit:  Caldecott and Newbery winners, classics.  Then I’d reluctantly also hand out the Scholastic and Troll forms – sigh, they were full of New Kids on the Block books (with pull-out full color poster!) and all other manner of “lite” reading.

And sure enough, what do you think 90% of the kids ordered?  Yep, the lite stuff.  It was a little discouraging.  It seems that “bad” books were driving out “good” in this case.

I see this with my own kids – I encourage a classic, and sometimes they do read them, but it’s so much easier to read a book of today that requires little of you.  There’s no challenging vocabulary (and often not a lot of plot), but hey – that picture on the cover sure is pretty, and it can be read fast!!

I can’t claim to be a total reading snob – one of my favorite reading pleasures is 30 minutes with my trashy US Weekly magazine.  I guess it’s true that there’s a time and a place for reading of all kinds.

So, what do you think:  do good books drive out bad?  Or do bad books drive out good?


3 thoughts on “Do Good Books Drive Out Bad Books?

  1. At our 6th grade last fall I accompanied a class to the school library. The librarian showed a short film about new books; later she talked about some new offerings. I left feeling sad. There was nothing shown or mentioned about quality books. It was nearly all dark sinister things. The Twilight series is EVERYWHERE! I hear adults are gobbling those books up, as well. Another thing our 6th grade library has lots of are books that are actually comic books. Things are really dumbing down. There are 6th graders who basically cannot read and they mainly look at picture books.

  2. I too grew up reading quality, and began reading books to my boys that they were too young to read themselves, so my kids developed good taste for quality books before they could even read, and gravitated towards them when they could. They are intelligent, articulate, thoughtful young men who are able to read and discuss some pretty heavy duty things, and I think their exposure to quality books is at least in part responsible for it. As you say, it is really hard to wade through a badly written book once you’ve become accustomed to “the real thing.” (The same thing is true of my nieces, who read a lot of “grown up” books and have “grown up” vocabularies and thought processes to match).

  3. I think bad books drive out good ones. I remember reading good books as a child, books that were way beyond my level. I still love to read. It’s one of my favorite activities.

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