Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Popcorn Reading

I love popcorn. Especially, I love movie theater popcorn. It's horrible. I can't go to a movie without wanting it. I'm sure that's what the theater wants, too, and that smell is sooo... intoxicating. I used to not be able to go to the movies without buying popcorn. Of course, movies were cheaper then. The popcorn was cheaper, too.

It wasn't really the money that made me quit buying popcorn all the time, though; it was my kids. Okay, it was the money, too, but, really, it was my kids. I mean, it's one thing for me to make the decision to put all that crap into my own body, but, back when we used to actually do (almost) a weekly movie during the summers, I didn't think I needed to put all that crap into my kids bodies, too. Even if they did enjoy it and want it.

Still enjoy it and want it.

The thing with popcorn is that it's so easy to just keep eating and eating it. Handfuls at a time. Don't give me a large bag of popcorn to hold at the theater and expect to get some. I will eat it all. You'll reach over to get some, and it will be gone. All of it. Well, there'll probably be a few loose kernels in the bottom of the bag. I won't have meant to have eaten it all, it will have just happened. The same goes for the lesser microwave popcorn at home. I will eat it. I might not even feel bad afterward.

Sugar is the same way. Things with sugar in them, anyway. It's so easy to sit down with a bag of, say, peanut butter cups and eat the whole thing without realizing it. And it makes you want more and more of it.

Eating junk makes you want to eat more junk. That's the way it's designed. Even when we know it's bad for us, we want to eat it anyway. I mean, it's been... well, it's been years since I've had a soda, but, sometimes, I still want one. And I think one can't be that bad, right? It's been years since I had one, so what could it hurt? But that will just make me want more and more. Once I re-acclimate myself to it, that is. Because, actually, having been off of sugar for so long means that anything that has any sugar in it at all is usually way too sweet for me.

The thing is, though, if you give people the option between something that's good for them and something that's bad for them, they'll usually pick the thing that's bad for them. Well, assuming it tastes good. I was certainly that way when I was a kid, which is why I grew up on soda. My kids are no different. They want to eat crap all the time. Even though we don't keep sweets and treats in the house and have a habit of not eating that way, they ask for things every single day. Every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY! And it drives us crazy every night! NO! WE ARE NOT GOING OUT FOR ICE CREAM! NO! WE ARE NOT GOING TO SIFT FOR CUPCAKES! Why do you keep asking that when you get the same answer every day?! Oh! My! Gosh!

People, especially kids, don't have the ability to look at their food choices objectively and weigh the advantages and the disadvantages and choose accordingly. Mostly, because they can't see what the disadvantages are. Or choose not to see them. Most people respond to things the same way my younger boy responds to food:
"Yum, this is full of sugar and carbs; this is awesome!" [Even though it's objectively bad for him.]
"Yuck! That's green and leafy and disgusting!" [Even though it's good for him.]
However, if you work with the things that are good for you, eventually, you will like them. And I know, because I grew up hating broccoli and yams, hating them with a passion (at one point, I think I vowed to my mother that I would never EVER eat broccoli), but those are two of my favorite foods now. And my younger son also likes yams, now, because we kept making him eat them.

The real issue is that you have to train yourself to like the things that are good for you. And it's not easy. I grew up with a cook for a mother. A southern cook. Let me just tell you right now that the southern diet is not the most healthy in the world. Even the things in it that are good for you are cooked in such a way as to not be good for you. They'll boil the nutrients right out of anything. And, if it can't be boiled, they'll batter it and fry it. Or, you know, throw sugar all over it. Want to eat strawberries in the south? Cut them up and toss sugar on  them. Why? It's already fruit; it doesn't need sugar. But that's how I ate strawberries when I was a kid. And why eat broccoli when there was fried okra as an option (and the okra smelled so much better!)?

At some point, though, you have to look at what you're putting in your body and say, "Is this good for me?" If the answer is "no," you have to train yourself into a different behavior set. And, no, I can't tell you how to do that. You have to figure that out for yourself.

Of course, I'm not really talking about food here. I mean, I am talking about food, but I'm also talking about books. Of course, I'm not the first to compare books to food. I'm probably not even the first to compare junk food to junk books. At any rate, just like most people (in the US, at least) spend way too much time eating junk food, most people that read (because most people actually do not read) spend way too much time reading junk books. Popcorn books.

A lot of people would say, "but at least they're reading something," and I almost agree with that. Except that saying that would be like saying of an adult that was still eating baby food, "well, at least, s/he's eating something." Yeah, I know it's not the same, but it kind of is.

See, I know some people that like to brag about how many books they read. And, yes, they read a lot of books. A couple of them read, like, 250 books a year. But they're all the same kind of book (and I'm not gonna say what kind that is), and they amount to popcorn. At least, that's how I visual it. All pretty much the same with very little substance. Not challenging. Not anything.

So when someone says, "at least, they're reading;" I think, "I'm not so sure about that."

I don't have a problem with reading for pleasure. Reading is great, and reading should be enjoyable. I also think reading should prompt us to think and, hopefully, to grow. The occasional treat is fine, but you really shouldn't try to live off of them (treats), just like you shouldn't use McDonald's as your dietary staple. Okay, McDonald's is trying to reform a little, so we'll go with Burger King. [Actually, it's been so long since I ate at either of those places, I don't know how they are.]

Other than observing people that just read the equivalent of literary junk food all the time, it's my own kids that got me thinking about this. Just like not letting them have popcorn all the time, I can't let them read easy, non-challenging books all the time.

When I was a kid, I didn't have anyone to help me navigate books. My family does not read. I stumbled my way through on Hardy Boys and stuff I could pick up at school until I started having things assigned  to me, and, even then, in my head there was a differentiation between what I read on my own and what I was assigned at school. It didn't matter that I liked the books I was being assigned at school; they were still a different category, so I spent my time otherwise reading literary junk. It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I figured out that I could explore "real" literature on my own. Of course, by that time, I'd wasted seven years of reading on (mostly) popcorn.

I don't want my kids to do that. Not that I force them to read anything, but I do make suggestions.

There's nothing wrong with reading the occasional piece of fluff. It's nice to have a mental break from thinking from time to time. It's something else entirely to devote yourself to only mental fluff. It makes it difficult to recognize something that is actually, really, good, because it's too challenging to get into. Everyone should challenge themselves to grow as readers. To start reading, to read more broadly, to read more deeply. Learn to like your broccoli and yams. I did.


  1. When I was in middle school, I went through a time period where I read nothing but Sweet Valley High books. My English teacher was very concerned by this; she considered them 'Popsicle books' and I was rotting out my brains with them.

    She and my mother harassed me a lot until I started reading other things, just to shut them up.

  2. Would a steady diet of Tolkien, Bradbury, Brooks, and Preston and Child be considered junk? Damn. I do read non-fiction on occasion. The Perfect Storm was one of the best books I've ever read.
    Sorry, think I write popcorn though.
    I do like my veggies! Hated mushrooms as a kid and now we have them all the time.

  3. Well said. You deserve a soda for that. Enjoy.

    I read what I want. At times it ends up being pretty meaty stuff, and at others it ends up being fluff. As I've gotten more interested in the craft of writing in recent years I've ended up reading more stuff like what I hope to write - which If I were to borrow your analogy - would be caviar, deep fried and sprinkled with sugar, with a side or broccoli, raw.

    What I actually write is probably raw cookie dough, with sprinkles of carrots on top.

  4. Andrew this is a great question and your right. I think there's room for both. The ability to entertain is just as valid a writing skill as anything else. I try to read the classics of literature while alternating with pop stuff. I love broccoli, but popcorn sure is tasty.

  5. Too much of anything isn't good for you, so it's good to change things up. When I was a kid I hated things like zucchini and squash but once I got into my 20s and tried them on my own I decided they weren't bad.

    I still refuse to eat mashed potatoes. I've tried a few times but I just hate the texture of them. I like my potatoes crispy, not mushy. Really not a fan of anything mushy. Soup is fine and ice cream, but stuff like mashed potatoes or oatmeal just hits my gag reflex.

  6. I completely agree. This is what I do: I read one classic every year. I re-read one of my favorites (like Tolkien or something). I read one non-fiction book (usually a biography). I read one debut novel (at least). I read one Cormac McCarthy novel.

    That way, I can feel fine about whatever else I read. In general, I read all kinds of different books, because I know a lot of writers and they recommend a lot of different things.

  7. Summer time is my fluff book time. I like a meatier deeper read in the winter but for me summer is made for lighter reading. Oh and thanks for making me feel bad......I was shoveling in hand fulls of sugary cereal while reading this post!

  8. I do agree that "junk in" will lead to "junk out" when it comes to reading and writing. But some of that junk makes a lot of money, so if that's what a person is after then I can't blame them. I mean, I'm probably not going to read it (I'm fully aware I'm a bit of a book snob), but someone out there will, and they will probably enjoy a deep fried Twinkie. Mmmm....

  9. I recently had a commenter say as much on my blog. Here's what he wrote:

    "I was talking to a friend who reads plenty of trash but also reads Wallace, Franzen, Murakami, etc. Long story short, I was asking her why don't people move from YA to more complex books. I'm not saying that as a knock on YA; I'm very glad people read Twilight because it means people are READING. However, there are so many good books that aren't trash (or are prestigious trash ala Brett Easton Ellis) and it confuses me that people have completely ignored these. I suppose this happens in film as well but it seems that art cinema is rising with its increased availability due to streaming but books are doing the reverse. I never thought I would say it but I'm sad Oprah is gone because she prompted people to read more challenging books. Also, this is not a knock on YA authors or trash authors; that is hard work. I just wish people would read other types of books in addition to trash so talking books with people is more than talking Hunger Games."

    I agree with Mr. Brad's sentiments expressed so eloquently, and to what you are saying here. I strive for a balance in my reading. There are some days where only popcorn will do. But there are others where I seek out more challenging fare. I'm reading one right now called The Compass Master which is very cerebral. I like that kind of mind candy.

  10. In this era I believe we have become conditioned to be addictive personalities. It's the easy way. TV certainly adds to the problem and get us craving junk food. When most Americans read I think they look for the equivalent of TV viewing. Same with film. We want it all fast, tasty, and mindless.

    I tend toward eclecticism. Just as I don't like to eat the same things all the time, I like to change up my reading. I alternate between styles and genres. For me the same thing every day gets too boring.

    Damn! Now I wish I had some good fried okra.

    A Faraway View

  11. With both healthy food and good books, I think it's just hard for people to find ones that kids will like. Eating healthy doesn't mean you have to eat a stem of broccoli with a piece of lettuce wrapped around it. You can find great, healthy recipes that don't taste like grass when you eat them. Similarly, to read well doesn't mean kids have to sit down and read all 1000 pages of Anna Karenina, which will bore any kid to tears. You've just got to find the right book.

  12. M.J.: In middle school, I think that's a fine thing to be reading. It's when you're still reading that same kind of stuff as an adult where there begins to be a problem.

    Alex: I wouldn't call Tolkien or Bradbury junk. If the Brooks is Terry Brooks, I'd probably put him in with the popcorn. Books don't have to be non-fiction to be substantial, and some non-fiction is definitely popcorn.

    Rusty: Ah! Bad! Tempter!

    You don't fool me, though. You -think- way too much to read books that don't feed into that.

    Maurice: I do have my Dresden books for when I feel like something light and tasty. He's probably a little more substantial than popcorn, maybe chocolate covered fruit, but that's my go to when I just want some light entertainment.

    Grumpy: I used to hate squash, too, but I can eat it, now. Still not a fan of zucchini.

    Matthew: That sounds like a pretty good reading strategy.

    Jennifer: LOL What kind of cereal? I still have bouts with missing Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.

    L.G.: I was just discussing deep fried things with Alex. I've never had one of those!

    Michael: Was this in response to your pop trash post the other day? I found it kind of funny that you put that post up just as I was prepping this post to go up.
    I'll have to look that book up.

    Lee: I made some fried okra a few months ago. My kids were surprised at home much they liked it, because they tend to want to pick the okra out of things.

    I try to read different types of things. I hate when I see that whole thing "read what you write." Um, no. You can't expand your writing if you only ever stay locked into one thing.

    ABftS: Well, I'm not saying to eat (read) any particular kind of thing. Like, you must read Moby Dick! What I'm really saying is "don't spend 5 years of your life reading Piers Anthony almost exclusively."

  13. Gave your book a shout out today!

  14. @Andrew: Yes. It was in the comment sections of that same post.

  15. Since you're not eating that big tub of movie popcorn, could I have it please?

    I dunno, Andrew, I beg to disagree with some of what you said. In this day and age of texting, video games and TV, it's an honest to god miracle when I see someone reading a book. Any kind of book.

    But reading, like food, is an acquired taste. You can't start out reading Dostoyevsky. You start with Dr. Seuss. And then comic books and maybe the Hardy Boys followed by some Stephen King or EL James. As long as people are reading, they are developing their language skills, preparing themselves for greater works of literature.

    I love popcorn. L.O.V.E. But if I eat too much of it, I get an actual craving for a nice, green, crunchy salad.

    You should read what you like because life is short. Reading is a pleasure and, even at its worst, it won't harden your arteries.

    P.s. - Got any Twizzlers to go with the corn?

  16. Since you're not eating that big tub of movie popcorn, could I have it please?

    I dunno, Andrew, I beg to disagree with some of what you said. In this day and age of texting, video games and TV, it's an honest to god miracle when I see someone reading a book. Any kind of book.

    But reading, like food, is an acquired taste. You can't start out reading Dostoyevsky. You start with Dr. Seuss. And then comic books and maybe the Hardy Boys followed by some Stephen King or EL James. As long as people are reading, they are developing their language skills, preparing themselves for greater works of literature.

    I love popcorn. L.O.V.E. But if I eat too much of it, I get an actual craving for a nice, green, crunchy salad.

    You should read what you like because life is short. Reading is a pleasure and, even at its worst, it won't harden your arteries.

    P.s. - Got any Twizzlers to go with the corn?

  17. Hi Andrew. Thanks for stopping by. That was my YA series site, so I almost missed the comment. My real blog is Spunk On A Stick's Tips.

    I've spent so much of the past few years reading marketing books, business books, and such that I would kill for a fluff book right now.

  18. My mom's a southerner, too, so I know exactly what you're talking about.

    Other than that, I enjoy fluff as much as the next person. I switch between "fun" books that I can devour in no time, and books that take me much longer and make me think throughout. The best of both worlds.

  19. I like anything literary. I love the old classics.

    I think being required to read certain books in school helped me find other books. Plus it fanned the reading flame.


  20. Andrew I am embarrassed to say it was fruit loops. Today I am having greek yogurt with granola......sadly its not as good but at least I don't have to hide in my work cubicle eating it in shame.

  21. When I complained to my mom at age ten that our local small town library didn't have anything in the kids section that I hadn't read that I wanted to read, she handed me Charles Dickens' David Copperfield . . .and I read it.

    Our word literature comes from the Latin word which means "of letters" which we've twisted to mean "books of snob value".

    I push myself to read classics I haven't read before at least a few times a year. War and Peace . . . well, I didn't like it much - it felt like I was watching several years worth of gossip reality tv shows with a bit of history mixed into it.

    I re-read The Scarlet Letter recently, and still hated it.

    However, I still love Macbeth, Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Much Ado About Nothing, To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations . . .to name a few.

    I just don't feel that all classics are "good" classics. They may have beautifully written prose, but often the stories are focused on the misery of the human condition with no hope offered. It's no wonder that message isn't popular and that most readers are drawn to comic book style heroes who actually live to see a golden horizon at the end of their story.

  22. You make a very good argument that I completely agree with. When I was younger, I would go to the library and want to read only high fantasy and science fiction and whatever hot series my friends were reading. And not all of those things were "popcorn books" but a lot of them were, and my Mom obviously worried that all I was reading was trash. So she insisted that I have a "real" book in every library haul. And that's how I ended up reading practically everything by Charles Dickens, besides Dracula, Doctor Zhivago, etc. I'd read 15 light books that I wanted to read, and I'd struggle through something "serious" to make my mom happy. And eventually I liked those other things, too, and it was a good thing I read them.

    If I ever have kids, I'll do the same thing to them.

  23. Gossip_Grl: Thanks much!

    Cathy: Hmm... I do like popcorn! Maybe I want to save it!
    I'm not saying people shouldn't read light, fluffy stuff; I'm just saying that people shouldn't -only- read light, fluffy stuff. And what's light and fluffy is different for each person, so each person should always be stretching their abilities as they go along.

    L. Diane: Those don't sound fun at all; I'd want some fluff, too.

    Shannon: It is good to switch back and forth.

    Teresa: Yeah, it was assigned books that helped me branch out, too.

    Jennifer: I was never into Fruit Loops. Even as a kids, it felt the same as just dumping sugar in my milk.

    Tyrean: Oh, man, I hate Hawthorne, and, of Hawthorne, I hate The Scarlet Letter the most.
    However, I don't mean that just the classics have substance. Plenty of newer books do, too, so there's plenty of room to find all kinds of books that are better than just popcorn.

    Callie: I wish I'd had someone to do that to me when I was younger. My first glimmer was my sophomore year of high school when I was the only one in my class that would admit to liking Great Expectations.

  24. I LOVE this post. I couldn't agree more. It would break my heart if my kids read crap.

  25. Sam: I know, right! I try to nudge them in the right directions, though. My younger boy just finished Watership Down and loved it! I mean, he really loved it, so that was quite gratifying. I didn't even tell him he should read it, either. He just knew that it's one of my favorite books, so he wanted to read it for that.