Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Tyranny of Reading

Hester Lacey has an interesting piece in the Guardian newspaper today from which I shall quote the most thought-provoking bits (the full article in linked in the subject of this post):

So Victoria Beckham has never read a book in her life. [...] Since when did a regular quota of suitably serious reading matter become obligatory? And who decides what's worthy anyway? If Victoria Beckham swallowed a regular dose of sugary chick lit or violent slasher chillers, for example (well, they're books too), would it somehow make her reading habits more acceptable than the fact that she happens to "love fashion magazines"? [...] If you love reading, which I happen to, life without books is unthinkable; that's very true. [...] But if you don't love reading, and particularly if you positively dislike it, why should you feel in the least bit bothered if you don't polish off a serious novel a week? [...] I am quite prepared to believe that some people don't "get" books, in the same way that I don't "get" maths, or crossword puzzles, or Sudoku (which seems to be a hideous combination of two of my least favourite things, more akin to torture than fun). I can see that these are perfectly valid ways to spend time and exercise the mind. But while other people enjoy them, they leave me at best indifferent or perplexed, at worst bored to tears. Why shouldn't others feel the same way about wading through a novel or a biography or a history book? [...] Reading must be about the only pastime that is pretty much universally seen as "good" and virtuous - so to say openly that you don't like books puts you beyond the pale. For someone to say they don't care for reading labels them as some kind of thickie pariah, fair game for any insult. To decide any such thing on the basis of one single trait seems both sweeping and snobbish.

I have to say that I sympathise with Lacey over Sudoku (or Soducko as I keep deliberately mispronouncing it, with the emphasis on the first syllable !) And whilst I certainly cannot imagine a life without books, I quite understand that not everyone's as mad about books as I am... One person's meat is, after all, another person's poison - and if we all liked the same things, the world would be a very dull place indeed. Neither of my parents are avid readers - yet they have shelves full of books in their home, my Dad taught me to read so early I can't recall learning and he bought me books before I was even born. I don't despise them for preferring other past times to reading - after all they managed to bring up three voracious readers (myself and my two siblings) who've all continued to be avid readers (and writers - both my sibs write fan fic.) as adults.

Of course, the people who think reading is good and virtuous are the same kind of people who look down on fans of popular fiction authors (eg. Tolkien or Rowling), because those aren't "real" books. In their eyes that kind of popularity is cult-ish and a "bad thing". Personally I can't understand all the fuss about Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, I was sufficiently bored after the first chapter not to want to read any more, but I don't despise his fans, particuarly as I know that the intense enjoyment of such a book can sometimes lead readers to discover new interests (the actual art works of Da Vinci, or in history, etc.) - but if it doesn't, that's quite OK. As the saying goes, it takes all sorts...

6 comments:

Camille said...

I sure agree with you about the DaVinci Code. I read Angels and Demons first and thought it was an ok read, enjoyable. I think the setting was the real star of that book.

I read the DaVinci Code because everyone else was. Yawn. I figured out who the bad guy was from the first moment he appeared and the "great mystery" was,underwhelming. I thought the writing was mediocre at best.

It would never occur to me to demean the books fans. If that book floats their boat, good for them. I wish writers would extend the same courtesy to fans of Tolkien and Rowling.

Michele said...

You and me both with regard to Tolkien and Rowling - I get fed up with having to defend my choice of subject matter when I write about them (esp. JKR). Have you seen Terry Pratchett's piece, 'Cult Classic' in Karen Haber's Meditations on Middle-Earth ? I really wish I could get the Tolkien and JKR sneerers to read it as it brilliantly sums up the situation.

Andrea said...

I don't like it when people don't get that everyone has different interests. If we were all the same, how boring life would be! As you know, I hate Tolkein, but love The DaVinci Code, so there we go. We don't hate each other for having different tastes, just celebrate it. And that should apply on a much wider scale...

Michele said...

Besides, there are a lot of books we both like - Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom and The Old Kingdom series, to which you introduced me; and Juliet E McKenna's The Tales of Einarinn and The Aldabreshin Compass series to which I introduced you, etc.

Jill said...

Bravo for standing up for different-but-equally-valid tastes, Michele! I've been feeling similarly myself. Btw, I like The Da Vinci Code and Tolkein and Rowling, although in different ways!

Michele said...

Thanks. I can't recall, now, why The Da Vinci Code bored me - I read the first chapter at least 2 years ago after someone sent me an electronic version of it and the first chapter was enough to cause me to delete the file !

But as you and I both know, Jill, I'm a huge fan of both Rowling and Tolkien (the later for more than 20 years now - gosh, saying that makes me feel old !)...