As I Live And Read


Fang-Face writes "There's an interesting piece entitled
As I Live And Read, by Michael Dirda, of the Washington Post, in which he looks at the state of reading and literature. In the U.S., but I imagine that it holds for every technologized culture. A longish plaint about the abysmal quality of what passes for "literature" in this day and age. Well worth the read, although it has the standard complaints about the impact of the internet."


One of the great tragedies of modern education is warring intentions. Many children's books written before 1970 or so are considered so hopelessly sexist or racist, that many schools do not encourage the reading of these classics, but instead emphasize more modern books, which are politically correct but schleckt writing.
I always enjoy Michael Dirda. Some time ago he bemoaned the loss of classic boy's action novels, and in his list, he mentioned an English tale I've never heard of. The book, Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner, is no longer in print in the US so I got a free e-copy from for my PDA, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It starts out in an English country church after a heavy rain, and the congregations heards bumping sounds comeing from underneath the church floor. The thoughts that the coffins in the crypt below were floating in the rain's flood and knocking up against the floor of the church was just the first image of a book on pirates, smugglers, buried treasure and adventure.
But stories like this are no longer profitable, and can only be found in public libraries, because not only do people read empty crap like Mr. Dirda says, but also because older literature isn't valued anymore.
When I got divorced, I went into a depression, and read only "mind-candy' books- space opera, adventure stories and the like. I remember coming out of the depression, and reading the first novel I could sink my teeth into for some time, and how refreshing it was to read something with more than a superficial plot and 2-dimensional characters. How unfortunate for so many, that they never get to the point where they read something that can actively engage their mind and imagination. This is one of the reasons why I went into librarianship, and why I enjoy reader's advisory service so much.

So what's wrong with space opera, fantasy, and the like? Has it ever dawned on any of these people that what passes for "literature" anymore is some of the most boring crap in the world? Sure, some of it's good, but you can't really expect someone looking for a little escapism from a hard day to curl up with a copy of Ulysses or the latest biography. People have always wanted adventure and action as it frees them from their usually well planned lives.

I see reading as a very personal activity and comparing my reading habits with someone else's isn't just useless, but insane. Of course some guy at the computer isn't going to read the same stuff I do. I'm into everything, including fiction. He likes the Mack Bolan novels. All fiction reading makes you think. It makes you visualize. We could have a long drawn out debate on which visualizations are better, whether it be Edwardian England or some tropical combat zone, but the point is that the visualization stimulates the brain and the mind. That's what reading is for, isn't it?

A lot of people are scared off of reading in school of all places. Uncaring teachers forcing material down your gullet in an effort to "educate" you shows kids that reading is work. And who wants to come home and "work on a book" after being at work for eight hours? We need to change our attitudes towards reading and education, but I don't think that's going to happen because some reporter starts pointing fingers at the populace and shouting "You! You're an under-read uneducated stupid retard!"

Especially when said reporter tries to impress me with how he's reading a bio on Borges and a "fresh translation" of a WWI memoir. The only thing more condescending than that is in the rest of the artcle he points out that no one is reading fiction. ahem Aren't the two books he brags about reading non-fiction?

Thank you Mr. Face for an excellent topic. Monday night I'll be leading the discussion at book group on Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. I recommended it to the group for 1) her incredible writing, and 2) amazing research, evidenced by the fact that this non-fiction history book reads like a novel, with not a single made up conversation or event.

But that said (and I'm sure no modern literature teacher will suggests this title since the 3 humans, one horse and the USA all go through a redemption of sorts), I was interested to see that Ms. Hillenbrand cited Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Bruce Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain as her most influential books. An interesting mix of old and new.

Her highest praise for influencing her style is Shaar's Killer Angels. "His book underscored for me the importance of searching for minutiae about my subjects that would say the most about who they were."

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