Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In These Pages

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of a good library, must be in want of more books.

Something like that, anyway.

This is getting more and more interesting. We seem to be having a real conversation about books, across multiple blogs and comments threads. I love it! And the really fun part is the sheer variety of tastes and opinions and experiences.

Your responses since last night have me reconsidering my position yet again. Is it important that I read many kinds of books, or only important that I read books, preferably ones I enjoy? How does quality factor in to it? What about cultural literacy? Is it important to read Moby Dick, as poet Thomas Lusk warns?

"Eyes Scooped Out and Replaced by Hot Coals"
by Thomas Lusk

I, the final arbiter
and ultimate enforcer
of such things (appointed by the king!), make official
and binding this: that the eyes shall be gouged out
and replaced by hot coals
in the head, the blockhead,
of each citizen who,
upon reaching his/her majority,
has yet to read
Moby-Dick, by Mr. Herman Melville (1819-1891), American novelist
and poet.

Or is it enough that I know the gist of it, the first sentence, the name Ahab and so on?

Isn't it equally valid to be a specialist, like Pat, reading in depth in areas of interest? Pat regularly introduces her readers to new books and new writers, most of them in the YA Fantasy field. That's got to be helpful both to readers of that genre and the writers themselves. I know more about the fiction of Madeleine L'Engle than 99% of her readers, and have written extensively on the subject. Surely that's valuable, too. And the generalists and binge readers among us, meanwhile, can point us in all sorts of directions with their recommendations.

Meanwhile, I have indeed saved a PDF of Pride and Prejudice, and dug up my paperback copy from the 1970s. I figured I could carry that around more easily than the laptop or a printout, and read it once I finished reading that Doctor Who book (which I've now done). But it turns out the first 20 pages of my old, yellowed, 50 cent copy (apparently purchased used for 25 cents) are missing, and pages 21-22 are loose. Maybe I'll print just the beginning of the PDF and then switch over at Chapter VI.

Or maybe I'll read some of my collected L'Engle nonfiction. I've been threatening to do that for years.



Call me Paul said...

I haven't read Moby Dick either (don't tell Simon). Maybe one day. I think it is important to be well read, but one should not have to force oneself to read something they are not enjoying. So give these classics a shot. But don't feel guilty if you just can't get into them.

ShellyS said...

I haven't read Moby Dick, either, nor do I plan to ever read it. Reading it doesn't interest me. Neither does reading Hemingway (not after managing to read only 3 pages of one of his books in high school). I can always find information about those books should I feel the need to have that knowledge.

As a librarian, I want people to read. Anything. I don't care what. After all, Charles Dickens was once the pulp writer of his time. Classics aren't written as classics. That happens decades later. They're books that stand the test of time. Who knows how Danielle Steel and Stephen King will be viewed 50 years from now.

A society that reads will retain knowledge. I'm much more concerned about retaining scientific knowledge in society than a taste in "classic" literature.

Lists of Books Everyone Should Read are nice if you're looking for recommendations. But to consider them required reading once you're out of school and not getting them as assignments is to be bullied by people you give authority over you for your "cultural" well being.

Read what you enjoy. As long as you're reading, you can't go wrong. And yes, that goes for porn, too. Or perhaps, just erotica. ;)

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Moby Dick either, but I've listened to it. Should that spark a whole 'nother discussion about books on audio vs. books on print? Oddly the chapter I remember the most is the one called Cetology, which I think a lot of people skip. Maybe it's just that I really like whales.


Anonymous said...

by the way, I meant to say, nice opening. :)

Homericgeek said...

It's possible that Thomas Lux hasn't read Moby Dick, either and is expressing a societal angst about it. You know, guilt (or whatever it is) that tells people that they "don't measure up" if they haven't read xyz. I agree, however with the post and with the comments. It ultimately comes down to the individual's taste. For example, I absolutely refuse to read Gertrude Stein - I didn't even read the assigned portion in a class recently. But, at the same time I can appreciate her as an artist. It took work and guts to do what she did, I just don't particularly care for the results.