“Kool-Aid” Books. Is that a new genre?

No, not books about a popular children’s drink.  Here’s the story:

I was in a store, standing at my table full of books and greeting passers-by, handing them book post cards if they were interested, and often asking “Do you enjoy reading mystery stories?” or some version of that.

A white-haired woman stopped.  She was formally dressed for the hot day, and stood ram-rod straight.  She looked briefly at the books, actually sniffed (people really do that!),  and said, “I never read Kool-Aid books.”

My instant reaction was, not anger, but amusement.  I suppressed the giggles and looked interested–or I think I did, at least. I asked, “What do you enjoy reading?”

“The great southern writers.”  She named a few.

“Eudora Welty?”

She hesitated, then nodded.

How about British writers?  Dorothy L. Sayers?”

She said nothing.

“Mmm.  But, like me, you enjoy reading.”

“Of course. I’m a retired English Lit. Professor.”

She moved on.

When I told a few others about this conversation they reacted negatively to her comment.  I can’t really tell you why I didn’t.  As I said above, her comment only amused me, and I supposed she meant she didn’t read books “without substance”– substance being like real fruit juice in relation to Kool-Aid?  The fact she judged my books as having no substance when she’d never read any of them was her problem, not mine.  I had no time to explain the human struggles, the victories over evil, the depth of personality development, and the ultimate triumph of justice  that I believe I include in my writing.

But her comment got me thinking.  What, really, does she see as a “Kool-Aid” book?  If I don’t write them, who does–if anyone? What about a few books that offer “only” pleasure,  no . . .  meat, nothing of “substance?”  And, truth be told, what is wrong about reading for enjoyment and relaxation only?

How would this woman judge the Confession magazines?  You can certainly guess the answer to that.  And yet, those magazines’ publishers and their writers see their work as providing insight, ideas for problem-solving, and the comfort of shared experience to the women who eagerly read them.  Definitely not Kool-Aid.

Going over a list of books I have enjoyed, I spent some time mentally surveying their plots and characters.  At the very least, I remembered learning more about something–history, a job, a part of the country, even just the human condition and how to cope–that was of value.  True, a couple of true “chick-lit” books, of the very few I have read, are maybe mostly fluff, but in the main, every book I recalled  (or have on my stuffed bookshelves) offers thought-springboards of value.

One example of value offered is seen in reading and writing about strong women, partly impelled by Sylvia Dickey Smith’s writing, and her excellent blog, “Writing Strong Women.”  We certainly do find meat there, and her book A WAR OF HER OWN is one of my all-time favorites.  I wonder what my English Lit Prof would think of that one, could I persuade her to open it?  And what about Carrie’s triumph (using prayer and feminine skills for problem-solving) over danger and death in A FAIR TO DIE FOR? Her example provided inspiration for me.  What about others?

To read more sharing of ideas about female strength, see Sylvia’s blog,  http://writing strong women.com

Then share your thoughts with us — do you read or write Kool-Aid books?   And, exactly what defines this new genre identified as “Kool-Aid?”

(Worthy of note:  I read, while looking up Kool-Aid on the Internet, that Lemonaide Kool-Aid is recommended (on Huff Post)  for cleaning dishwashers. ( It must be the lemonaide flavor.)  You pour one packet in the soap dispenser and then run on any cycle.  The publicity says t his cleans stains and anything else negative in your dishwasher.)

Radine at http://www.RadinesBooks.com


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15 Responses to ““Kool-Aid” Books. Is that a new genre?”

  1. terrysthoughtsandthreads Says:

    Thanks for the dishwasher tip! And thanks for offering a new term to be aware of … Kool-Aid books. I can only wonder what she might call my thin volumes of poetry.

    You showed great restraint in not pursuing the term with her … I would have to have asked her to describe what she meant … but then, I would no doubt have irritated her and delayed her errand.

    You show a much better response style.
    Food for thought. I continue to learn!


    • radine Says:

      Actually, according to Wikapedia (did I spell that properly…???) it was some other “ade” drink involved at Jonestown, not Kool-Aid. I ran across that when I was searching for something else, and, of course, can’t confirm. Too bad if that awful time maligned an innocent drink.

      Terry, I am sure this woman would fully approve poetry, but, come to think of it, possibly only if none of we common folk could understand it. Maybe, since your poems are meaningful and easily understood, it is possible this woman wouldn’t approve of them. When we lived in Tulsa, John and I had a college prof. as a neighbor and he wrote poetry. Once he had a “launch” party for his latest chapbook at his home across the street from us. We went, and of course, all invited neighbors bought a book. Later, discussing it across the fence with our neighbors next door, we all admitted that, tnough the prof was a nice guy, none of his poems made any sense to us.

      Shirley, I wonder if the speaker ever read Shakespeare, or — on the other hand — if he thought it to be fact, not fiction.

  2. Shirley McCann Says:

    Interesting post, Radine. I guess it’s kind of like the 70’s Bubblegum Music. But if you LIKE it, and it ENTERTAINS you, who cares? Isn’t that why we all read anyway – to be entertained?

    You’re right when you said it was her problem, not yours.

    Reminds me of one speaker we had at Sleuths’ Ink a few years ago. Can’t recall his name, but he actually said he didn’t read fiction because he only read important stuff. Kinda funny.

  3. Radine Trees Nehring Says:

    Gosh, now I wish I’d had the nerve to ask her more. I will say this, she did seem embarrassed when she realized (as someone else came to my table and asked if I was the author) that I had written the “Kool-Aid” books. She moved on rapidly after that.

  4. Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People Says:

    Hmmm…ramrod straight, eh? Me thinks if she would read for fun once in a while, instead of only per the AP reading list she might loosen up a little in her body language too. She was expecting a confrontation, the posture proved it. Good for you for squashing her stored up “next retort” by being friendly instead.

  5. marilynm Says:

    I don’t think you write Kool-Aid books, what a dumb term. Fluff some people term mysteries–but probably those who think that way haven’t ready many, if any.

  6. kaye george Says:

    My first thought on reading your title, Radine, was that Kool-Aid books would be mass suicide books, like the Jonestown Kool-Aid deaths, or Hell’s Gate, and I didn’t realize it was a whole genre. There are whole book clubs full of people like your non-customer. They’re just not out people.

  7. marilynm Says:

    Oh, my, that was supposed to be read many.

  8. Nita Says:

    Friends and I have been discussing, “light books” vs. “heavy books.” Light books are fun to read and don’t require a lot of thinking, while ‘heavy’ books are more academic and require to thinking when we read them. Someone said our ‘light books’ are like the old show, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”, when the voice over told us “…have fun…if not careful you might learn something.”
    Kool-aid, fluff, or Light reading, bring them on. The world is serious enough I (and I suspect others too) need some lightness in our entertainment. We need books that let us relax.

    • radine Says:

      “Heavy Books” (at this season of the year) made me think of school books. Didn’t know I could remember so clearly after all these years. Don’t mis-understand, I loved school, but still — the idea of beginning the school year facing all those heavy books and the burden of assignments and homework … yerks!

      Interesting discussion — light and heavy. Wonder where some parts of our mystery genre would fall. Is Stephen King heavy? Possibly. What about Agatha Christie. Um, mostly light, I think. And so on . . . .

  9. Pat Gulley Says:

    I’ve reached an age where I prefer ‘Kool-Aid’ books. Been there, done that on the heavy sighing and ‘relating’ stuff, though I will never say never. (^_^)
    Let’s face it, Kool-Aid was not the problem in Jonestown.
    As for it being used to clean a dishwasher, well that’s about as disturbing as coke being able to remove paint off a car.

  10. ChipperMuse (Michele) Says:

    Ooh, that term is just as insulting to the reader of those books as to the writers of them. Not nice.

  11. Sally Carpenter Says:

    I LOVE ’70s bubblegum music! So much so that the hero of my mystery series sings it (he’s a former teen idol). What your Eng. lit. prof might not understand is that many of the authors studied in modern lit classes were considered the “pop writers” of their time. Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austin were read by the masses for enjoyment, not high art. Shakespeare’s comdies had low brow, slapstick humor that the “common folk” enjoyed. While I appreciate “Macbeth,” it’s too heavy and depressing to watch/read for a steady diet. People need “light” reading to escape, relax, find enjoyment. I think your professor needs to read some cozies to lighten up!

  12. kaye george Says:

    I can identify with what Sally Carpenter says. I do like to read some dark works over and over, Dostoevsky for one. But I saw the most magnificent performance of Death of a Salesman years ago in Cincinnati and had a migraine afterward. It was so intense and depressing. I will never see that play again, although it’s one of the best plays I ever saw–that performance anyway.

  13. Radine Trees Nehring Says:

    Like Kaye, I can identify with what Sally says. And, I do wish I’d had the opportunity to talk more with that English Lit Professor. We might have had an interesting–and productive–discussion. Book sales were great in that store. Maybe if I can go back later in the year, she might appear???

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