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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Books are for enjoyment, dammit!

I came across this great article by Harry Mount, Our reverence for books is ludicrous in which he basically says that we should read books for enjoyment and not because we want to pretend to be cultured, well-read snobs. His opening paragraph is entertaining, thought provoking, and right on:


Do you ever start talking to an incredibly boring person at a party and say to yourself, after five minutes: "Well, he's incredibly boring, but I'll talk to him for another 30 hours. He's bound to get better." Or, when you've finished with a newspaper you've enjoyed, do you ever put it on a shelf on prominent display so that you can admire it from a distance and never read it again?



I admit that this used to be me - if I started a book, I had to finish it, no matter how painful and debilitating this was. What cured me? My daughter's fourth grade English teacher. We live in Israel and my daughter was in the native English speakers' English class. When it was time for their first book report her teacher gave out guidelines which stated that one section of the book report needed to be "why I liked this book." The teacher said: "Do not say I did not like this book. Reading is for enjoyment. There are enough books to choose from. If you don't like the book, put it back and choose another one." WOW! So simple and yet it was like an epiphany for me. Why didn't I ever think of that myself? I do not have to read every single book ever published. My tastes change over time and are influenced by many things. Today I try genres that I was never a huge fan of before. And if I hate the book and can't get through it, so be it. I have enough books on my TBR list that I WANT to read. Sometimes I will listen to a book on audiotape if I think it is something I should read but don't think I'll be able to get through it. Sometimes it works out okay - Steinbeck's Cannery Row which I listened to after visiting Monterey was boring but bearable and other times, the audio can be agony as well (I abandoned Reading Lolita in Tehran in the middle but suffered through six hours of The Road).

Now thanks to Harry Mount's article I no longer need to feel guilty for being the worst read English major or for the fact that try as I might, I just CANNOT make it through Moby Dick (thank you Mr. Cliff).

8 comments:

valentina said...

I'm with you there:)

JMC said...

You know, I know this in my head, yet somehow I STILL feel the need to finish a book if I've started it. Though if it really sucks to where I think it's beyond all redemption, then I could probably put it down... I think... maybe...

Chasida said...

I know, it took me a very long time to get to this point and even now, I give up on a book with a very heavy heart.

Dewey said...

Oh! Someone else who didn't swoon over The Road!

I agree with Mount, the 4th grade teacher and you. But I also particularly agree with the last part you quoted. Unless I know I'm loved a book so much that I'll want to read it again in a year or less, I list it with bookmooch once I finish it. So my bookshelves are filled with perhaps 10 or 20 favorites, books I haven't read, reference books and cookbooks, our son's few favorites, and then the hundreds of books my husband hoards for no apparent reason except that he enjoys collecting dust. Uh oh, marital discord! No, not really, we've compromised, and all is well. :)

Fern said...

Another Fern chiming in (it is always so interesting to me to meet other Ferns...have you noticed that most Ferns are Jewish?). Anyway, I'm so thrilled to "meet" someone who didn't like Reading Lolita in Tehran, I felt like some sort of uncultured dolt for giving up on it. Everyone I've ever talk about the book with has described it as "moving" and "profound." I thought it was boring and self indulgent. But then again, there are very few memoirs that I think deserved to be published. Most of them seem boring and self indulgent to me.

Chasida said...

Hey Dewey - and I thought I was the only person on the planet who didn't like The Road. Do you like Bookmooch? I looked at various sites and so far enjoy paperbackswap.

Chasida said...

Hi Fern!
I know one other Fern and she too is Jewish. I really tried to get into Reading Lolita in Teheran but it was too boring for me. I don't usually read memoirs either. I think it's funny when these very young people write autobiographies. Honestly, what could they have experienced that they feel the need to share with the rest of us?

mother in israel said...

My friend from Chicago had a sister named Fern. That's the only one I've ever heard of, until you two. Occasionally I continue reading a book, especially non-fiction, just becaause I feel I need to learn something.