On reading

4 Oct

Knowing that I like to read, friends give me book recommendations on a regular basis. Some friends even give me books. The books they give me are good books, even really good books, books that thoughtful, well-educated, well-read people read. As I have been accused of being all of those at various times, I understand why my friends give me these books. But, there is a breakdown in the logic here.

I read crap.

I readily admit it. I’m sure the people who write the crap I read don’t consider their writing to be crap. In fact, they are probably very proud of the crap they write and they should be. Theirs is some of the best writing I have read in a long time. It is filled with engaging characters and interesting plots and it’s just plain fun to read.

A lot of people read crap. In fact, more people read crap than any other kind of reading material available. Crap sells. Someday, I hope to get my own crap published. Then, my kids will be able to go to college and read some good books, even some really good books.

I used to read good books. I read a lot of good books. I had to read good books in high school, books like “The Old Man and The Sea,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men.” Books written by dead white men. They teach more different kinds of books now, books by dead white women, living Native Americans, dead black men, living black women, living white women, living and dead Latinos, living and dead Asians. I think they still teach some dead white men books, but I haven’t checked recently.

After high school, I went to college. I majored in English, so I had to read more good books by dead white men. Men like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway (again). I took a class in literature of the theater, so I read Inge, Pirandello, and some other white guy I can’t remember.

I read Shakespeare, of course. I read a lot of Shakespeare. I took a whole class in Shakespeare. I even went to see “Macbeth.” That was a lot of fun. No, really, it was.

I continued to read good books after graduation. I felt I owed it to my degree. How could someone with a degree in English from a respected university sit on the 151 and read Nora Roberts? How anyone would know from looking at me that I had a degree in English is a mystery, but there you are.

After college, I made a point of staying away from books written by dead white guys. I read books by women. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Kate Chopin is memorable. It was what all the young feminists were reading and I was nothing if not a feminist. I was probably even strident. I read a collection of essays by Marxist feminists titled, “Women and Revolution.” No one could question my intellectual credentials from looking at my bookshelves.

“The Shipping News” ended my run of good book reading. “The Shipping News” is one of those really good books. People loved it, so I slogged through it, each word going in one eye and out the other until one night I had an epiphany. I realized I didn’t have to finish the book. There wasn’t going to be a test, I didn’t have to write a paper. I could just stop reading, so I did. I even gave “The Shipping News” away. I think I put it in a bag for The Goodwill.

Eventually, I felt tremendously guilty. I was a good book failure. It crept into the back of my mind that I might even, perish the thought, be shallow.

Because I couldn’t possibly be shallow, I decided the fault lay with “The Shipping News.”  Surely, I thought, “The Shipping News” is an anomaly. The difficulty with “The Shipping News” was I had to use my eyes to get it into my brain and my eyes kept closing. I thought I would try good books on CD. Maybe if the good book were read to me, I could enjoy it, just like when Dad read us to sleep. I decided I would listen to books in the car. I tried some highly-regarded book read by Blair Brown. I abandoned it for safety reasons. It made me drift off into unfocused daydreaming, just like when Dad read us to sleep.

So, I stopped reading fiction all together. Instead, I read books about gardening, knitting, parenting, spinning (wool, not a stationary bicycle in health club). I learned a lot and, if I didn’t read the entire book cover to cover, I didn’t feel guilty. Who reads a parenting book cover to cover anyway? You look up today’s problem, ignore the advice given, and put the book back on the shelf.

Then, I went to grad school. Another name for grad school is “when you aren’t eating or sleeping or writing a paper, you read” school. Unfortunately, the books you read in grad school can’t be abandoned. You will be expected to converse knowledgeably about them the next day.

I read every night, often long into the night. Some of it was interesting. Most of it, however, was written in Academic. Academic is a language designed specifically for use by professors and professors-to-be. It is incomprehensible on the first read, difficult on the second and marginally understandable on the third. I usually settled for marginally understandable.

Winter break came. I had six weeks to do nothing. The kids were in school. I hate housework; hence I had nothing to do. I needed something to read. I found Charlaine Harris and the Sookie Stackhouse books, the basis for the HBO series, “TrueBlood.”

I finished the first book in a day. The next day, I went to Borders and bought the second book. The next day, I went to Borders and bought the third book. The minute the children were out of the house, I read. I finished the third book on the third day and went back to Borders. I bought the rest of the books. I read them all.

One week onto Winter Break, I needed more books.  I discovered Jim Butcher. I read all of the Harry Dresden books.

Two weeks into Winter Break, I needed more books. I discovered Laurell K. Hamilton. I read all of her Anita Blake books. I found Tanya Huff and her Blood books, the best vampire fiction I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot.

Three weeks into Winter Break, I took a break from reading to knit some Christmas presents and interact with my family.

Winter Break ended, I went back to grad school. Eventually, I finished.

Now, I have lots of time to read. I still read crap, but I only read good crap. “Dead Until Dark,” Charlaine Harris’ first Sookie Stackhouse book, has the best first line I have ever read. I won’t give it away. You’ll have to start reading crap, too.

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9 Responses to “On reading”

  1. Bobbi Meier October 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Enjoyed your personal history reading and the importance of crap reading in your life!

    • jmlindy422 October 5, 2010 at 9:13 am #

      You should read the one from September on parenting.

  2. Emily Schuler October 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    You’ve started me reading most of the crap you read, and I’m so thankful! As a lit major myself, I understand the dilemma surrounding good literature and enjoyable literature. They’re not mutually exclusive. But the way I see it, every book is somebody’s baby. Whether we appreciate it for its genius or love it for its sinful draw, we do the author honor by reading it.

  3. G. M. Stevens September 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Boy did this all ring familiar to me. I’ve pretty much gone through every stage of this blog and ultimately, I too fell captive to Sookie Stackhouse. I LOVE Charlene Harris!!!

    • jmlindy422 September 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

      I had a dream that Charlaine drove up to my house in a big convertible Cadillac. She shouted out to me from the street that it was time I wrote about my mother, who died three years ago. I said, “I’m not ready!” and she shouted back, “Yes, you are!” and drove away. Both my mom and Charlaine are Southern ladies. So, if Charlaine says I have to write it, I guess I have to! Try some Jim Butcher. Love, love, love the Harry Dresden books. They just get better and better.

  4. Mad Queen Linda May 31, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    JIM BUTCHER!! HARRY DRESDEN!! I love the Dresden novels! I’m still reading them, taking time between each so I don’t burn out (as well as run out of them). That guy can write.

    So, are there a 10 commandments of reading? Thou shalt only read tragic fiction? Thou shalt never read anything over which you might laugh? Why do we do this to ourselves?

    • jmlindy422 May 31, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Not sure that the 10 commandments apply to normal people (ie, non-writers, people without English degrees, English teachers, etc.), but it’s pretty clear I’m not reading what I SHOULD read. If you like Jim Butcher (who absolutely can write!), you might like his Codex Alera books. They are not at all what I thought they would be. Took a few pages to get into it, but it was worth it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] my episodes on the prairie illustrate, I still have anger issues. I still hate liver, read crap and get jealous, too. But, I haven’t taken a serious trip to Funky Town in a while. My son is ok […]

  2. Too Embarrassing | Snide Reply - November 12, 2013

    […] I graduated, I continued my habit of reading critically acclaimed novels. I’ve written about the reading revelation I had on reading “The Shipping News.” In three words, I hated it. I hated it so much that, for […]

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