Thursday, April 13, 2006

On oversleeping, work and reviewers

I have approximately ten minutes to get ready for work, which means anything that I planned to write this morning (and oh, there were plans) and anything I planned to fix this morning (that lovely list of YA book recommendations, so y’all still have time to get in more titles or reasons for why you picked the titles you did). So instead, building on the theme started with my link over to HelenKay’s early this week (which had to do with Dayo’s response to Chick-Lit in general), and the thoughtful article that the Written Nerd wrote in response to the snarkiness over the Tournament of Books, I ask you this:

Is there anything wrong with reading for pure enjoyment and escapism? Should you also read things that you may not enjoy or is life too short?

And specifically on the topic brought up by the Written Nerd, should reviewers get a grip and realize that there are high and low points to every book, and that no one outside of a select few “elitists” pay attention to what they are saying unless there is a full-on reviewer dog-pile on the book?

There are books that I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still recommend them to people. Take the Egyptologist, for example. Phillips does well with the macabre and combination of fact and fiction, but I felt that the epistolary style limited him in the end (making the book falter), and that he short-changed the readership where some characters were concerned. Overall I was disappointed, but I still offer this book up to people in book clubs because I think there are limitless discussion possibilities, and I’m sure that others will like it just fine. Should a reviewer not do the same?

So what are your thoughts?


lady t said...

Elitism is getting rather tiring-I'm not above giving some good snark but this whole attitude of treating certain books as if they were neccessary ingrediants to being considered an "intellgent" reader is so damn off putting!

I think it's important to read for fun and for artistic value. Some of these reviewers need to lighten up-one of the worst is Joe Queenan,who once did a review for two horror books and revealed both endings! Fortunately,I had already read one of them before looking at his review. It's just wrong to give away the ending,even if you hated the book-not cool,Zeus!

Bethany said...

Um, yeah. I read for pure and utter escapism and enjoyment. Life IS to short not to. Why else do I spend hours reading?

Oh yes... to gain knowledge. But, um, books are like all things shared with a large audience. Some parts are good, some bad--but the IDEA of the book can garner great discussions. Period. And even if the damn things are light, cheeky, and full of nothing but entertainment. But--I am sure those elitists would disagree.

christine fletcher said...

I don't read non-fiction (much) so all my comments are in regard to fiction.

Fiction can have multiple jobs, but its number one job is to entertain. If fiction can also enlighten or educate, wonderful. To me, the BEST fiction opens up a vista or a viewpoint that the reader had never before imagined or considered. But as both a reader and a writer, I also believe that story is all.

I can't get through many 20th century "masterpieces" of literature. I can't get through many books lauded now by the critics. I used to feel stupid and inadequate about this. I don't anymore. If the story is not present enough on the page to capture me, I don't care how much of a genius the author is supposed to be. In contrast, I look to Tolstoy. Austen. Wharton. Eliot. Thackeray. Magnificent storytellers all. I devour their books, and when I'm done I feel larger than when I began.

There are always exceptions--but in general, I sign up for the "life's too short" column.

jmc said...

Count me as one of the non-elitists when it comes to reviewer opinion. As I read reviews in the Post's Book World or the NYT book reviews (less and less often), the thought that reviewers have a preconceived idea of what great modern literature must be looms large in my mind. Anything that does not fit that mould or live up to those standards is not worth a recommendation or a reader's time. Eh. I happen to think that whatever anyone chooses to read is ultimately worth their time, whether it is A Brief History of Time or a Barbara Cartland novel. The measure of worth is relative, and like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I read for entertainment, but I also read to stay current in my profession and to learn. Still, I would say that my reading falls into the life is too short category. After all, I chose my career and essentially selected the professional reading I would be doing. The non-fiction that I read is also governed by my taste -- even if I selected it in order to learn something, I've imposed my own taste and choice on the subject matter. [Which is why I seldom read about computers and technology, but read a good bit of history and humanities.] I'm not going to select books/subjects that I think I'm not going to enjoy.

The idea that we should force ourselves to read things that we don't enjoy because they are good for us or because we "ought" to enjoy them reminds me of high school reading lists. I can't tell you how many classics of literature were ruined for me because I had no choice about reading them at specific times, at a set space.

jmc said...

Set pace, not set space.



Book Nerd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Book Nerd said...

Thanks for the link, BS Chick, and thanks for the good give and take, as always! There are more sides to this issue than I had thought about at first -- not only snarky knee-jerk put-downs vs. thoughtful enjoyment, but elitism vs. escapism, the inherent value of reading, the various purposes of literature, and on and on.

But all of your comments sound like those of true booklovers, of whatever stripe -- not like the tired performances of a jaded critic who can't find anything worthwhile in the form of art they supposedly specialize in.

I'll post another entry in a day or so to talk about the points brought up in comments here and on my blog. Thanks for expanding the conversation!

Anonymous said...

Escapism is an essential element of writing. Even great, meaningful fiction should whisk you away. If it's painful, it doesn't work in my opinion. Reading shouldn't be an acquired taste.

And as for subject matter, nothing is wrong with variety. Not every book needs to move the world. Stories just for fun are vital too. Isn't that how we all learned to read as kids? I can't imagine Harold and Purple Crayon solved world hunger or anything.

Canary said...

One of the most important lessons I've learned over the years is to just stop reading a book that I'm not enjoying it. As a reader, it feels instinctually wrong to not finish a book, but as others have said life is short. I'd rather spend my time reading something I enjoy or engages me in some way.

I think for me it is unrelated to any concepts like literary-ness or popular fiction categorizations. There have been great literary books that I've loved and hated as well as one's that could only be called just popular fiction.

Personally a key element that I've become aware of is simply whether I care what happens. I realize that if I've reached a 1/4 or 1/3 of the way through a book and I simply don't care what happens to the characters, there's really no point in finishing the book. I don't have to like the characters or even identify with them, I can hate and loathe them - but there has to be some engagement, either in characters or plot or even the compellingness of the prose, in some way.