Saturday, September 16, 2006

So Many Books, So Little Time?

I went to check out the website for the magazine Good that I heard about on JD's blog. I am always on the lookout for new magazines. I need that basket of catalogues and magazines by the couch to completely run over, not just topple a little.

I zoned in immediately on this article by Michael Silverblatt, lamenting the fact that people don't read any more. Not only don't they read, they don't want to read. That reminded of me of the time we were living in Bossier City, Louisiana, and a Barnes and Noble opened. This was huge for me. But Al said that he saw a guy walk in and say, "Well hell. All they have in here is a bunch of books." That's just so sad.

Silverblatt thinks people don't read because those people never really learned how to read. He has an interesting point. He says we are able to read--we learned to recognize the words but not how to enjoy reading. He references an essay by Randall Jarrell that said in the 1880s, fifth-graders (I'm going to repeat that--fifth graders) were reading Byron, Dickens, Shakespeare, Emerson, Cooper, Cervantes. When did you read books from those writers? High school? College? Ever? Come to think of it, I didn't even read Jarrell until graduate school.

Silverblatt also talks about how part of reading is incomprehension. He says, "The greatest books are the books that you come to understand more deeply with time, with age, with rereading." I love that. I have books that I tried to read in college but just couldn't get into them. But I have since realized that I just wasn't able to comprehend them yet. This is especially true of poetry.

There's a great scene in the play Vanities where Kathy says that she made a list of all those books they were supposed to read in high school and college, and she's been reading them--"And they're actually good." I do the same thing. I have a lists of books that I really think I should have read or that I should reread because I don't think I really appreciated them during the first reading. Ulysses by James Joyce is my white whale. I really want to read and understand that book. It's a huge list, by the way, that I don't think I'll ever get through. Especially since every time I start one of those books, a new mystery comes out or I hear of a new writer that I just have to read first. That's why I usually have 2 or 3 books going at once. I think I have a bit of an attention span problem.

Like the people in Silverblatt's article, I'm always saying, "I don't have any free time to read." Well, that's not true. I do have free time to read, but for some bizarre reason, I feel guilty if I'm just sitting around reading a book. It seems like a luxury to me, and when I indulge, I think that I really should be cleaning or doing all those things I need to do around the house but always put off or just working on something more tangible. Sad, really.

So, let's make more time for reading and not feel guilty about it. But I don't think you necessarily have to go back and read the Western Canon. I still believe that just because something is a classic or is in an anthology does not mean you have to like it. Whether you read for fun, read to learn, or read to pass the time, you're still going to have likes and dislikes. But I do think it is possible to not like something but still appreciate the skill behind it. But you don't have to like all of it. Personally, I'm not going to read Moby Dick. I don't like Melville. I read Billy Bud in college, and of all the American literature I've had, that is the book that was torture to finish. Now, maybe if I tried again with my now-life experiences I might have more appreciation, but I don't care. I don't want to read Moby Dick.

Oh, and the really cool thing about Silverblatt's article is that there is a sidebar with resources, so if you don't knew who David Foster Wallace is (and I didn't) he gives you a little information on him.

So, read any good books lately?

13 comments:

Betty said...

I agree that there are some books that you need a little "life experience" under your belt before you read them. Lord, how I HATED Green Mansions. Like you, I wonder if I would like it better, now. But, I'm not going to read it and find out. I tell myself I'll try John Dos Passos again. Do you think people with cats would read Dos Passos?

Kell said...

I think you shouldn't have let the Dos Passos books go in the auction, but who knew? Maybe you should stick to used book stores instead of the library. But that might be the same problem, huh?

jd said...

I find with the advent of blogs I read less books than I used to. On the other hand, I think I am buying more books than ever because of so many good recommendations from others.

By the way, thanks for referring to my blog, although you might want to check the link. It looks like it got put in incorrectly.

Newt said...

Ulysses is my white whale too. I have a goal of reading the 100 best books of the 20th century as well as the 100 best characters. (Don't ask how far I have gotten.) I did re-read Catcher in the Rye and loved it the second time around just as much. And I also read The Great Gatsby. Now that was definetly a book I was too young for the first time around. But what a marvelous read 20 years later. I also have a wish to read Cervantes' DonQuixote, I got the book, I've just never cracked the cover. One author I fell in love with was Alexandre Dumas. I just LOVED reading The three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo. I also went on a Victorian kick and read everything by Austen and the Bronte sisters. Though I'm still a little perplexed by Wuthering Heights. Maybe that is another one I should read through my more mature eyes. Anyway, I can't imagine life without books. I'm very grateful that my parents got me reading very very young. And always encouraged it for the whole family.

Kell said...

JD--sorry about that! It's fixed now. I had to start going to the library because if I buy a book, it just sits there because I know it will always be there.

Newt--Great Gatsby was definitely one that I appreciated more when I reread it as an adult rather than a student. And Austin, for that matter. But I haven't been able to get through Jane Eyre and I want to try Wuthering Heights again. You're the most well read person I know! I take all of your recommendations straight to the library.

Betty said...

Newt and Kelley: Wuthering Heights will be the same mindless drivel it was the first time, believe me. My book club read it about a year ago, and we ended up making fun of it.

Kell: I never owned the USA trilogy. Faulkner, Steinbeck, yes, Dos Passos, no. A Lit professor ruined Gatsby for me. Damn his eyes.

mike said...

Interesting that you said you think you have a bit of an attention-span problem. Part of the lack of reading, outside of not knowing "how" to read, is that CNN, Mtv and soundbites have programmed to have short attention spans and reading takes time.

School is what could have ruined books for me though. I love to read, but HATE to be told what to read, much less be graded on my (inevitably "wrong")interpretation of it. Sorry. If I think that Hemingway was a pretentious hack or Faulkner is so dense as to be unreadable, I should be allowed to do so without being told "you're wrong because every literary critic in the world says you're wrong."

That being said, I've been re-reading books that I hated from that time and found some of them to be much less horrible than I remembered.

Jay said...

I too have a list of books I should go back and read. But, I haven't made much progress on it. But, like JD and I would guess a lot of other people I read so many blogs that it takes up a lot of time. And, there are other things I enjoy too. Not that I'm really all THAT busy, though.

But, as to why people don't read as much. Most people going to college are going into the Business side of things. And, most business depts. have dropped World Lit and other Lit classes from their requirements. They also don't assign any of the good business books in any of the classes either.

Susan said...

I have to think that TV is the number one reason people don't read anymore. I once offered a bag of books books to someone who said "Oh, I don't do that". I was puzzled over that until another time when she said she simply didn't read. She'd rather get he news and entertainment from TV!! I'm still in shock!!! I rarely ever watch TV...

My oldest picked up a pamplet with recommended reading for high school kids. These are mostly modern Caldecott and Newberry Award winners that she is really enjoying. So much that she insists that I read them. So...that's what I've been reading...

Kell said...

Betty--uh, yeah, I think you did have the USA trilogy. I thought about trying to read it but decided it was beyond me.

Mike--You are so right. We don't want all the information, just give us the highlights. God, how many times do I just read the headlines in the paper? And I've never been a big Hemingway fan myself (I ended up skimming A Farewell to Arms), but I do like some Faulkner. Can't help it--love that southern gothic stuff.

Jay--That is so sad, isn't it? When I taught freshman comp, one of my architect students said his advisor told him not to worry about taking freshman comp II (research writing). Just do it whenever you can because it's not important. That's very sad, too.

Susan--I'm always so surprised at how people are so proud of saying that they don't read. And when I worked at a library, we had lists of Caldecott and Newberry Award winners so parents would have a reference of what to pick. But even then, some complained that they were too explicit or the themes are too adult.

Newt said...

While we are talking authors and books, I learned something yesterday that made me go "Huh"

When I got married I became a part of a wonderful family of friends. One of the friends is named Melville. I NEVER thought to make the connection to the author. I mean, there are millions of Melvilles right? As it would turn out he is the GreatX5 (or so) nephew of the whale chaser himself. The things you learn.......

Betty said...

Kell, uh, yeah, I think you're right. It was one of my senior moments. Haha

saz said...

I suspect younger people don't read because they had too darn much homework in school. There was no time to read for pleasure. It's when you're young that you pick up the reading habit.