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Classic works that criticize popular books


I've been reading Don Quixote in fits and starts, and just got to the scene in chapter 6 where Quixote's friends toss all his books of chivalry into the yard to be burned.

And it occurs to me that, although the scene is funny, it invites the reader to sympathize with book-burners and to rail against pop culture, two things that I'm a little reluctant to do.

(I'm imagining the modern equivalent might be a scene in which a vampire-LARPer's friends decide to burn his whole collection of vampire books, with droll commentary on each one as they consign it to the flames.)

Anyway, it also brought to mind Northanger Abbey, which I can't believe I've never written an actual entry about. No time to do so now; short version is that it's my second-favorite Austen novel, after P&P. And it's all about the dangers of reading too much popular fiction. One of the things I like about it is how much fun it has with that idea; Catherine seems to me to be recognizably a Fan, and the book seemed to me an excellent portrayal of early Fandom.

So now I'm wondering: what other well-known now-classic books took as a main theme the criticism of popular fiction and its readers?

The Rivals has some of that, though iIrc it's a little bit less the main idea than in Quixote and Northanger Abbey. (But it's been a long time since I saw or read that play, so I could be wrong.)

Not thinking of others offhand, but I'm sure they exist. Anyone?


One thing that popped into my head is the stuff in Little Women about Jo's writing career and the various (immoral) stories that she reads and sometimes emulates in her desire to get published (before realizing that moral stuff can sell).

It's not books, per se, but Nick Hornby's High Fidelity has a running theme of critiquing the influence of pop music. According to WikiQuotes, the line I'm remembering is this: "What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

Louisa May Alcott took and larger swing at the perilous of poor reading habits in Rose In Bloom. Archie's mother equates reading trash novels to smoking cigars. No real surprise considering both Emerson and Thoreau (I believe I've read both of them poking at frivolous reading) harsh a bit on reading junk.

Amusingly, a discussion about the evils of reading was the last conversation I had with Mary Ann about seven? years ago. That was a fun weekend.

Thanks, all! These are just the kinds of things I was looking for.

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