I readily admit to anyone that will listen that I am an intellectual snob. But that probably isn't the most accurate. I am sure my cultural choices seem low brow to many. I mean I love musicals including Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, and Rent. Not exactly the highest of brow. But compared to what is offered nowdays, I am truly a snob. So maybe I am not high brow, but I am at least "middle brow." (Yes, I just made that up!) My favorite authors are also middle brow (the more you use the term the easier it gets). Pearl Cleage, Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, and Jill Nelson make me run to Borders to get their latest works. But imagine my dismay when I get to the book store and find titles such as "Hot Ghetto Mess" and "The Block is Hot" on the shelves. I don't mind a few titles sprinkled in for diversity's sake, but come on.. the urban literature is taking over the book shelves. If you are familiar with any mainstream bookstore, the Black books section is already tucked in a corner with just 3 shelves. So to have the shelves overrun with urban lit is sad.
Now I remember when Terry McMillan first came on the scene with Mama and Disappearing Acts. Ya'll remember that? Critics were downing her words as low brow as well, and Terry had a witty comeback for them. She said that as long as she is getting an untapped audience to go to the library and read a book, then everyone should be happy. I agree with her to a point. I applaud anytime a novice reader enters a bookstore or library and finds a book that they love. I cheer when they come back for a second time and decide to try something harder or different or new. I get excited when their minds are open to new experiences. But alas, we have highschoolers who are reading Zane. (Just shake your head!) After reading this book that takes no effort, these new readers are not spreading their wings and trying new works. They are going back to the bookstore/library and requesting the next hot piece of urban lit. This is where I have a problem. Will "Hot Ghetto Mess" help them on the vocab section of the SATs? Will "The Block is Hot" show them a community outside their own?
Now, before you decide to virtually picket my blog, let me explain my position. Should all literature be Toni Morrison deep? No. Sometimes you need a subtle word so you grab Tracey Michae'l Lewis. Sometimes you need some politcal commentary wrapped in humor and you look for Jill Nelson. Sometimes you need a kick in the butt so you reach for essays by Pearl Cleage. Sometimes you need new suggestions for the bedroom, so you pick up Zane's "Sex Chronicles." And sometimes you need just a mind vacation, so you pick up "Hot Ghetto Mess." I am ok with the genre. I am ok with the books. I am not ok when the shelves are saturated with only one option. That is when I have a problem.