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Why 'pop culture' is no less valuable than classic literature

Sabrina Hartono
Sabrina Hartono

A self-proclaimed book-geek, semi-foodie and lexicon-lover

Jakarta  /  Fri, October 14, 2016  /  08:14 am
Why 'pop culture' is no less valuable than classic literature

“Don’t waste your time reading fiction; you should be reading the classics,” they say. (Shutterstock/File)

How frequently have we teenage readers been nagged to “read something of higher quality?” How often have classic literature books been shoved in our faces, while the “pop books” in our book basket been returned to the counter? “Don’t waste your time reading fiction; you should be reading the classics,” they say.

Technically, the classics are fiction too. Fiction basically refers to something invented by the mind, something imagined. Dickens’ Darnay, Orwell’s Winston Smith and Alcott’s March sisters were all fictional characters, they were invented for the story. Similarly, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, John Green’s Margo Spiegelman and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park are all fictional characters. What makes society value them less than their “classic” counterparts? Just because the “classics” were written much earlier than these “pop culture” books automatically makes them more valuable?

(Read also: Books to read whether you’re young or not)

Having a father who was a reader, I was introduced to the world of reading from an early age. I love the classics. Their plotlines are extremely intricately woven and so masterfully crafted that, when viewed holistically, the books give you a sense of pure satisfaction because you realize that there is no better way the story could have gone. Also, the “olden” style of speech and writing gives an air of sophistication and daintiness. How beautiful it is for Mr. Darcy to tell Elizabeth, “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” instead of “I didn’t want to tell you but I can’t ignore my feelings. I love you so much.”

Understandably, too many long-winded, complicated and obscure sentences is what makes our heads spin when reading classic books. That’s where pop culture books offer refuge. They more closely reflect changes in culture and language. Pop culture books thus serve as a more relatable platform for readers to establish connections with the characters. Fundamentally, pop culture books’ popularity really owes itself to the simplicity of language that allows younger readers to understand them much faster.

Some pop culture books hold just as much valuable lessons and are written just as originally and creatively as the classics. Rick Riordan’s hallmark slangy, casual narration style in his mythology-inspired books (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard) should not induce hesitance over the quality of his craft. Uncle Rick’s storylines, inspired by ancient mythology, still produce highly original character arcs and interesting plotlines that convey meaningful lessons to their readers. As Hermés said in "The Sea of Monsters", “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it.” Who would dare disagree with such a message?

Increasingly, criticism over the “so-long-as-they-are-reading” argument prevails, especially for individuals whose conventional mindset leads them to the assumption that readers are unable to ‘level up’ in their book choices. But that isn’t entirely the case. Once they run out of books of the same readability level, then they’d probably look toward books that pose a greater challenge—be it in terms of content or in terms of vocabulary and literary depth. 

Given, the kinds of books we read do make a difference, to an extent. There are books that open our horizons by introducing us to meta-life-discovery messages. But before we begin judging and ranking books, we need to address the basic question: what are their purpose?

Some books are meant purely for entertainment. And that’s alright. Sometimes we need 200 pages of lighthearted romantic comedy, or some easy-read witty coming-of-age stories to brighten our day. 

(Read also: Six books you can actually finish)

Reading should be an activity that simultaneously relaxes and prompts thinking. When people are made to read unappealing books, reading becomes an activity that induces stress instead of reducing it; from there, book-reading culture will begin to deteriorate.

The world of classic books and “pop culture” books are not segregated from one another. Readers can easily cross over between the two worlds and indulge in a wider assortment of books. If we continue to hold the classics to a higher regard, when will society be encouraged to exhibit progression in literature? This notion extends beyond literary books; the rift between the traditional and contemporary ideas will continue to expand and society will remain fixated on the premise that these new ideas are not as valuable as the ones long established.

Will there ever come a time when pop culture books are deemed worthy of being called “classics”?



A self-proclaimed book-geek, semi-foodie and lexicon-lover, Sabrina Hartono is a 17-year-old student living in Jakarta. She loves history, literature, chemistry, not-really maths and waffles. An aspiring writer, she has started with her pilot project, "Forgotten Voices", which you can find out more about on

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.