Self-Improvement Dept.

Been traveling, and will be hitting the road again soon. But first, a meditation on the idea that it doesn't matter what people read, as long as they read something:

Reading Upward by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

... much supposedly literary fiction also repeats weary formulas, while some novels marketed as genre fiction move toward the exploratory by denying readers the sameness the format led them to expect. And of course many literary writers have made hay “subverting” genre forms. However, if the “I-don’t-mind-people-reading-Twilight-because-it could-lead-to-higher-things” platitude continues to be trotted out, it is because despite all the blurring that has occurred over recent years, we still have no trouble recognizing the difference between the repetitive formula offering easy pleasure and the more strenuous attempt to engage with the world in new ways.

I'd argue that we have trouble recognizing it when the two cross over or learn from each others' best attributes, but that this happens rarely enough it's no surprise it's missed. An author like Georges Simenon was excellent at providing what seemed like mere entertainment, while at the same time delving into things typically left to "serious" fiction; authors of his caliber don't come around much anymore, if at all.

But the main issue here is whether a bad book is better than no book at all. If the kids are reading just comics, is that better than them not reading at all? If people are picking up Stieg Larsson, is that an improvement over just nodding off to Jimmy Kimmel? (No ding on Kimmel intended, but you get the idea: the generic algebra for this sort of thing is that any printed word is going to be "superior" to any TV show.)

So: improvement? Sure, but only in the most qualified sense: it doesn't really prime people for being adventurous with their reading. Rather, it gives them a way to find a comfortable niche and stop there. Very few people read with the kind of breadth and voracity that the most ardent of book-lovers advocate. Still, if there's one class of people who should be reading that widely and liberally, it's writers.

I go back often to my old adage about how I meet people who call themselves writers, only to find their tastes in reading to be depressingly narrow and regressive. They think they have everything they need to get by, when in fact they are only cheating themselves. Even if they don't like what they find, it's still vital that they have the experience — and that right there might be the key to why this sort of thing doesn't happen as often as it ought. Most people, writers included, read for fun, not as part of the homework of their creative life. They don't want to take one of the things they should be enjoying and make it into a grind. So they stick with what they know and like, and miss out without knowing what's being missed.

Tags: readers reading writers writing

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2014/08/13 10:00.

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