In a more or less coincidental new year’s resolution (which so far is going better than learning Icelandic), I’ve embarked on a year of edifying reads.
The rules are kind of nebulous, but basically I’ve decided to read books that I 1) really should have read by now that 2) have some decent chance of being good and that 3) I actually want to read.
So, I’m not just going to fill in cultural gaps (such as by reading The Da Vinci Code – fork that noise).
I’m also not holding myself to finish something if it turns out I don’t like it. Hence this post.
By Valentine’s Day, I had abandoned three books (although I had also already completed 17). These were One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Sex and the City, and an indie queer book I won’t mention ‘cos I really don’t need to rag on it.
I was a weird mix of surprised and not at how off-putting I found One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Mostly I should have known better about the power of millions of people to be wrong.
Sex and the City was a little different, though. Putting Sex and the City down was actually kind of comforting, in a way. You know, since generally I would say this kind of book is squarely within my wheelhouse (at least for my version of a guilty pleasure). But it wasn’t even a pleasure, guilty or not. One sentence didn’t make me want to read the next. It’s the same reason I’ve never finished Dracula. I just don’t end up giving a hoot what happens.
(Yeah, that’s right, I’ve never finished Dracula. I’ve never even gotten to the part when Dracula moves to England. Does he even end up moving to England? Who gives a rat’s ass?)
I’m not saying anything dramatic like it took me to the age of 26 to realize that I could abandon books. Partially because I still felt guilty about it. But after paying some nice middle-aged ladies from the former USSR $60,000 to tell me I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion about books until I had finished giving them all my money, I realized that that’s simply not true.
You might not have the background to place such and such a text in its historical context, yadda yadda, and you might not get all of the subtle devices or allusions or whatever the hell is going on. But the literary criticism machine invokes/perpetuates(creates?) the false notion that no work of art need function in and of itself, which is moronic. It’s why 20-year-olds fall all over themselves to become Nabokov scholars: there is, in effect, a right answer with someone who tries that damn hard to be clever.
Look: your college lit profs might think the most important thing is that you get some reference to Gargantua and Pantaguel (you know, without ever actually assigning Gargantua and Pantagruel), but that’s not the way reading as an adult works. Study your notes, pass your test, and then grow up to see the difference between assimilating why someone wants you to read a book and whether or not that book is worth reading to you.
Big Mama Schlomo