Scholars have typically differentiated between literary and popular fiction. For example, engaging with literary fiction is thought to be active; it asks readers to search for meaning and produce their own perspectives and involves complex characters. Popular fiction, on the other hand, is passive; it provides meaning for the readers and is more concerned with plot than characters.
Hmm! I have severe doubts about this presumed dichotomy. Raise your hand if you think the books you prefer to read are more concerned with plot than characters. Anybody raise their hand? Certainly not everybody.
I wonder very much about what the authors of this study consider “popular books.” I wonder if I would agree that those books are more concerned with plot than character.
The researchers conducted a study involving 493 individuals with an average age of 34. Subjects completed a version of the Author Recognition Test where they were asked to indicate which authors they were familiar with among an extensive list of authors. Subjects were then given scores based on how many literary fiction versus popular fiction authors they recognized.
Hmm! Recognized, not liked, I notice. That seems strange! Haven’t we all heard of the authors whose books were assigned in school? Don’t we recognize those names? I wonder … I wonder if this study is actually doing nothing but drawing a line between people who went to college and people who didn’t? Or good students vs disinterested students? Or humanities majors vs STEM majors? It seems to me that people in the first category in each of those pairs would have heard of more literary authors than those in the second category.
I’m quite suspicious now of anything this study purports to have found. I don’t think they were measuring what they think they were measuring! Wouldn’t it have been better to ask people to choose from that list only authors whose books they had read in the past few years? Read AND liked, would perhaps be better.
The results revealed key differences between respondents who engaged with literary fiction and those who read popular fiction. As the researchers expected, reading literary fiction was a positive predictor of attributional complexity, while popular fiction was a negative predictor.
As expected! Oh, we had this theory, and Lo! we found a way to design a study that suggests we were right.
… literary fiction “paints a more complex picture of human affairs, and of the human psyche, than popular fiction . . . we should find that readers of literary fiction develop more complex schemas about others, their behavior, and about the social world they inhabit.”
Sure. Well, it’s a theory, sure, but I’m not very impressed by the methodology. How hard would it have been to differentiate between people who preferred to read literary vs preferred to read popular fiction? And I still want to know which popular books the authors of the study consider are plot driven and have little character development.
But click through and read the whole thing if you’re so inclined. I bristled right away at the idea that popular fiction promotes a passive attitude in contrast to literary fiction, so perhaps I’m not being fair.