Thursday, July 19, 2007

You're Reading What?

You might have noticed the minor contretemps, out in the blogosphere, started by this smug column, by Ron Charles, where he congratulates himself for being too grown-up and clever to read Harry Potter.

I'd feel better about the reactions to this column, which are nearly all scathing (see Lauren, who has collected some for us), if the commentors then didn't go on to make it clear they, more or less, agreed, in principal, with Charles.

That is, they too see reading as a Serious Goddamn Big Deal, something you do, like taking your vitamins, or, well, going to temple. Or, I don't know, the Gym? As if their library card ought to have No Pain No Gain stamped on the back of it.

As an English professor, this makes me edgy.

What's with this "good" book/"fun" book dichotomy? Texts are texts. If you don't like the puppy, don't read it. As Ben Franklin pointed out, all knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold upon the mind.

So leave Moby Dick alone if you're not interested. And Faulkner, for heaven's sake. (Me, I liked Faulkner, when I was 24. Now I find him a windy old class apologist. Things change.)

What is wrong with reading books written for children, or SF, or mystery novels, or, to choose a specific example, Charles Portis's True Grit? Nothing. I read a great deal of children's fiction, as a matter of fact, and not only because I have a nine year old. Some of the books written for children are fine books. Try Hilary McKay some time. Cynthia Voigt is also very good. Some of the best writing out there is being done in SF right now --China Mieville springs to mind, and Richard Morgan, and Octavia Butler, who, sadly, died a few years ago, at the height of her career.

Read widely, that's my advice. Some of the books being pushed, today, as literature are nice enough. Most, though, eh.

Oh! And you know what's not getting enough attention right now? Graphic novels. I read an excellent graphic novel about nine months ago, The Rabbi's Cat, by Joann Sfar.

Also, it doesn't have to be reading. Reading is my vehicle. If DVDs or music or art (or graphic art or cartooning or something I haven't thought of) is someone else's vehicle, then it is. It's all our culture. We make these boxes, we make these rules. We need to get over that. Human expression. Nothing human ought to be alien to us, and as elevated as it makes us feel to sneer at someone else because their form of expression looks inferior to ours, well, keep in mind you're either doing yours because you like to do yours or because you don't. In the former case, it's no sacrifice, is it? And in the latter, you're a fool. Grow up and move on.

Edit: Also, this, via Three-Toed Sloth.

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