with Neil Simon, he would. At least, he said, he would exchangernincomes. But he could not write “easy plays,” worksrnthat appealed to the masses. “I’ve tried,” Albee said in responsernto a student’s question, “but I just can’t. I have to write for somethingrnhigher.”rnHigher? How so? Are we, as readers, truly justified in scoffingrnat the common denominators of popular fiction? Are thernpaperback romances and Westerns and crime novels that occupyrngrocery-store checkout-lane shelves nothing more than passingrnfancies, worthless trash, facile entertainments? How doesrnone define “entertainment,” anyway? And who has the right tornsay that simply because something amuses, enthralls, or occupiesrnour hearts and minds for a space (however small) that it isrnsomehow less worthy than more self-consciously “artistic” effortsrnthat are often boring if not impenetrable?rnLike Shakespeare’s plays, many early novels were penned outrnof a desire to appeal to a broad, common readership. Suchrnworks as Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Moll Flandersrnwere originally published as “entertainments,” couched in thernpretense that these were “true histories,” not fictional recreahonsrndesigned to amuse as much as to inform. If the blatantlyrnliterary efforts of Samuel Richardson were the only seed of thernmodern novel, chances are it would never have flourished.rnWorks based on topical subjects and socially immediaternthemes have always been with us. We should not imaginernthat, in Aristotle’s time, everyone sat around watching thernplays of Sophocles and Euripides, although by virtue of thernrecognition they achieved, it is assumed that they were the mostrnpoprdar writers of the day. Even Aristophanes seasons his playsrnwith jokes about contemporary themes and events, often referringrndirectly to people who were expected to be present duringrna performance. Indeed, it might well be that Aristotle usedrnthese works as examples in the Poetics because he wanted tornpoint out that it was possible for something to be both widely appealingrnas well as intelligently written.rnNor should we imagine that people lay about reading ThernFaerie Queene or Paradise Lost or Samuel Johnson’s A Journeyrnto the Western Isles of Scotland when less literar)’ or artisticallyrnpretentious efforts were at hand. Johnson himself, though hernoutwardly despised Henry Fielding as “an ostler,” surprised hisrnbiographer Boswell by revealing that he had read at least parts ofrnFielding’s novels, particularly Joseph Andrews, and that he enjoyedrnFanny Burney’s popular works. Even Chaucer’s audiencesrnhad the choice of listening to his work or to the wildlyrnpopular and bawdy Lays of Marie de France, which have onlyrnbeen regarded as literary efforts in recent centuries, and wernshoidd not forget that Hawthorne’s complaint about “thatrnDamned Mob of Scribbling Women” was not directed towardrnthe Brontes or —Mark Twain’s complaint aside —even JanernAusten, but toward the antebellum equivalent of the “romancernwriter,” the purveyors of the “easy read.”rn”Romance” was the operative word of the dme, a fine semanticrnhairsplitting between the tale written purely to entertainrnand a “novel,” which seemed designed only to titillate. But therntitillation—the sentimentality, the adventure, even the sexualrnfantasy; in other words, the popular appeal of the novel —is, afterrnall, what sustained it and permitted it to develop as literar)’rnart.rnDistinguishing between that which is literar}’ and that whichrnis popular is, then, a fool’s errand. Samuel Clemens desperatelyrnwanted to be popular in his work and to be wealthy from it asrnwell. He was disappointed in both endeavors. He openly enviedrnArtemus Ward and Bret Harte, whose books and journalisticrnpieces received popular acclaim. Mark Twain’s magnumrnopus was regarded as a “boy’s book” in some quarters; in others,rnit was branded as “unfit for boys to read.” So he allied himselfrnwith one of the most popular writers of the day in a collaborativerneffort. His coauthor had more than a dozen books in print andrnwas the darling of the reading circles, ladies’ clubs, and the literaryrnsocieties of the 1880’s. Who was this paragon of popularrnliterary effort? His name was Charles Dudley Warner. I amrnsure that all the readers of this article have his collected worksrnon a prominent bookshelfrnMy preconceptions about literary worth changed when Irnstarted writing, and the recent changes in New York publishingrnhave altered them further. I do believe it is possible to write andrneven to publish a work of literary merit, but it is no easier to sellrnthat to the general public than it ever was. Cormac McCarthy,rnSalman Rushdie, and Thomas Pynchon may be the best-sellingrnliterary authors of our day, but they write books that most peoplerndo not read. Even many people who buy them do not readrntheru. They would rather read Caleb Carr or Mar}- HigginsrnClark or James Michener or. Cod help us, Robert JamesrnWaller. They tend to place the others on their shelves, savingrnthem for emergencies such as nuclear war, when they will bernforced to read extensively and will be grateful for anything theyrncan get their hands on.rnAnd while I am sure that there are those, even today, who regularlyrncurl up with a hefty volume by Dostoyevsky, Thackeray,rnor Henry James, who cannot wait to get home every night sornthey can dive back into Proust or Pamela, I have to admit that Irnwould prefer to spend my return to the 18th centur)’ in TomrnJones, a book that was unashamedly written to be popular. Irnmay take a copy oiWar and Peace with me every summer vacation,rnbut I prefer the latest Andrew Vachss or Robert Ludlum forrnmy actual poolside reading.rnBut even if one’s taste runs to the more puerile and pulchritudinousrnpassages of popular pulp, that is nothing to be embarrassedrnabout—or to apologize for. The right attitude is to keeprnan open mind and to laugh when some patched-sleeved,rnBirkenstocked pedant announces that this or that is “trash” orrn”garbage,” while busily stuffing the latest thriller. Western, orrnhorror novel under his coat. You see, we know (even if we willrnnot admit it) that it is possible for a Nancy Taylor Rosenberg tornturn a good phrase, create a memorable character, or evoke thernsame muse that moved Anne Bradstreet or George Sand. But ifrnone knows Bradstreet and Sand, then one’s ability to recognizernthe better efforts of a Rosenberg is heightened. And this is thernpoint of reading widely and well, after all. crnTipu’s Tigerrnby Paul LakernA six-foot tiger, made to entertainrnThe sultan Tipu Sahib, rips the breastrnOf a model Englishman, whose roars of painrnAmuse the sultan and his native guests.rnWho, probing its French gears like vultures, allrnDelight now in the multicultural.rn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn