(this popcorn is off flickr somewhere; I have lost the link, so no attribution. sorry!)
Last week I read a book about a girl who learned that she was immortal and then spent many centuries partying and wearing excellent clothes, only to discover that she was tired of that life and therefore went into seclusion at a farm and worked at a convenience store and also discovered her mysterious magical heritage and skills. (It's this book, in case anyone is interested.)
It was complete and utter popcorn fiction. And it was lovely.
In this very book-loving, literary-exalting publishingland that we live, there is a general negative (or at best, not-as-positive) reaction to books that are not stuffed to the gills with deeper meaning, significance, discussion of ethics and integral relevance to the world today. (This is presumably why Freedom is tagged as the best of last year, and not something like Troubled Waters.)
This seems to spring from a commonly-held general idea of what reading's MO should be:
Reading: it's for learning! (The corollary here is: learning: it's not fun at all!)
People solemnly (and frequently) tell me things like, "I wouldn't want to spend my time reading books if I wasn't going to get something out of it," presumably meaning that after reading Kant's Critque of Practical Reason, you are more informed of the underlying motivation for your conscious moral experience, and therefore every ethical choice you make has excellent deeper resonance. And: yay, about that! It's always good to have increased knowledge and awareness of your ethical state.
But if every single thing I read was supposed to provide my life enhancement on that level, it is entirely possible that my head would now be in a state of explodedness. Or I would be a cyborg-library. You can see (from the non-exploded head) that I have a different idea of what reading is for:
Reading: it's for fun! And also sometimes there is interesting learning involved.
Books take lots of time and energy to write, and publishing them takes a good amount of labor and money, and the distribution process adds yet another of layer of complication on to that — but do you know what? Doing all of that to provide people with entertainment is great. That's why Whales on Stilts is popular, and the novels of Georgette Heyer, and Agatha Christie's murder mysteries, and books like Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. (Those are very popcorn-y novels; interesting and educational books like Homicide and The Age of Wonder are also excellent things, and partially because they are fun to read as well as being full of knowledge.)
Culturally, we seem to project a stigma onto doing things that are just fun — whether it's eating dessert, sky-diving, or reading romance novels. (Possibly this is caused by our bizarre national Puritan heritage; the less said of that, the better.) And this seems to be especially the case for books, because — you read them in school! There are years and years of ingrained established experience that tells you this is not supposed to be fun.
But you know what? If reading was just edifying and enlightening and also was as enjoyable as getting your mouth washed out with soap, no one would do it.
So the next time you sit down with a book (by your roaring fire, because that's the kind of weather we're having), take a minute to realize: that's fun you're having.