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?