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Poll: Is Reading Something “Bad” Better Than Reading Nothing?

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom

We’re going to tackle this question by pretending to examine two camps of literary opinion.

The Harold Bloom Crowd

Bloom is an eminent literary critic who wants people to read the classics.  He feels that many or most universities are no longer teaching Literature with a capital L.

Stories work better for this explanation.  When the National Book Foundation awarded Stephen King the  Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Bloom threw a freaking fit.

This award usually goes to authors whose books are considered Important. Who write moral stories for adults. Who participate in the “sublime.”

Stephen King is a big fan of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books.  I’m paraphrasing here, but King has stated that the Harry Potter books have done that amazing thing–getting kids excited about reading.  He also said that kids who read J.K. Rowling will become kids who read Stephen King.

Harold Bloom feels that that is exactly true…and part of the problem.  That it would be better to read nothing than to read Stephen King or J.K. That reading the pulp, mass market paperbacks you find in the grocery store along with V.C. Andrews is worse than ignoring books altogether.

The “Any reading is good” camp

On the other side is the opinion that any reading is beneficial.  That reading something flexes part of your brain in a way that reading nothing doesn’t.

So what do you think?  Ignore the word “bad” in the title.  I picked it because I had to pick something.  Hopefully the gist of the question is clear.

Which camp are you in and why?

For the record, I have nothing but love for Stephen King.  I’m also a fan of about 80% of what Bloom says.  It’s not like either one of them wrote Twilight, so I can forgive them for just about anything.

Josh


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  • Casey August 21, 2009, 7:20 am

    I think Bloom needs to get off his high horse and get in touch with the real world.

    I’ve found there is a group of art critics (Music, literature, movies, etc.) that are more and more segregated from the general populace. They tend to look down on anything popular and typically dismiss it due to its newness.

    Yes, King, Rowling, or any other “sparkly vampire” author may not be the finest writers to ever grace the Earth, but if they are engaging readers, then they deserve some commendation!

    If you can’t tell by now, I am all in favor of people reading, even if what they read isn’t considered a “classic”.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 7:31 am

      Casey, part of Bloom’s worry is that authors like Shakespeare, Wilde, Cervantes, and so on aren’t getting taught, so they won’t get read, so they’ll vanish from human consciousness. Is there a way to keep people reading those books? Does there need to be a way?

  • Tina August 21, 2009, 8:25 am

    I am absolutely in the camp that any reading is good reading – my uncle didn’t learn to read until High School, and only did because of comic books!

    I read everything – magazines, blogs, newspapers, trashy paperbacks, kids novels, and more “classic” literature. They all play an important role in keep your mind active, and they can all fill different needs/wants.

    I think the big issue is most people don’t want to read something that isn’t “relevant” today – and without having a teacher telling them why a particular piece of classic lit. is relevant, they won’t take the effort to figure out how or why it is.

  • Dermanus August 21, 2009, 8:45 am

    Most people, kids especially, hate reading “the classics”. Why? Because pompous people who claim to know better than them tell them how much better they are.

    I’m oversimplifying of course, but as Casey said, a lot of critics reactively avoid anything new, especially if it doesn’t have the flavour of classics (i.e. set in the past, flowery language, etc…). Sometimes I don’t want a sweeping saga examining the human condition. I want a relaxing story to help me wind down before bed.

    I get the feeling Bloom is more concerned about his job staying relevant than about whether kids are reading Dostoevsky instead of Rowling. There’s a place for both. I’m reading my son the original Peter Pan. I also read him Dora the Explorer.

    All that said, I’d rather sit and meditate than read some trashy Harlequin.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 9:59 am

      Dermanus, you don’t strike me as the trashy Harlequin type:) You and Casey have made some great points.

  • Casey August 21, 2009, 8:51 am

    My opinion on this is controversial at best. I think that if a book is truly a classic, then it doesn’t need to be taught, it will be held up in society’s consciousness. If we don’t teach a book and it falls into obscurity then is it truly a classic? Yes, the book may have deep thoughts, flowing prose, and valuable lessons, but if it doesn’t continually reach out to the public then I don’t believe it should have the title classic.

    If we don’t teach Shakespeare, and in 10 years no one reads it or cares about it then, to me, this means it was something that has merely been buoyed up by a core group of academics.

    For example:
    Romeo and Juliet: Personally I think this was the weakest of the Bard’s work, but it’s constantly getting told and retold. Even in its original version it’s become popular outside of theater, literature and is enjoyed by most of society.

    Pride and Prejudice: Very few schools “teach” this book, but it still has an enormous fan base, so large to even spawn its own parody almost 100 years after being published!

    Great Expectations: Very few people read this book. Most people only read it because they’re forced to. I’m sure there may be some fans of this book here, but I would argue that the only reason people are familiar with it is because academia has forced it upon us.

    All of these books are old, all have been read by millions of people, but I challenge you, which ones are really classics?

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 10:02 am

      Casey, great points. I don’t have the answer. But I’m with you on Romeo and Juliet. There are many, many of Shakespeare’s works that deserve more press, but not their own treatments by Leonardo DiCaprio:)

  • Positively Present August 21, 2009, 9:58 am

    Personally, I LOVE reading and I think that reading anything is better than reading nothing. In addition, I think it’s hard to say what’s good and what’s bad. For example, if someone were to read a great novel and then to read a love note written by a five-year-old, which would be “better”? “Good” is all a matter of perspective.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 10:00 am

      @Positively Present. As someone who collects phrases that people scribble in the margins of library books, I can say that I’d be up for hearing the love note from a five year old. You would not believe the bizarre message I found written in a copy of Invitation To A Beheading. Maybe that deserves a post.

  • Jeffrey Tang August 21, 2009, 10:08 am

    Looks like you’ve opened up quite the can of worms here, Josh.

    My opinion:

    Literacy is good. But that doesn’t mean all reading is good. If you read crap, you learn to imitate crap. And I’m not just talking about grammar; I’m also referring to content. Have you seen what people call “teen lit” nowadays? If this is truly what people are reading, is it any wonder that so many problems continue to persist?

    On the other hand, I disagree with the notion that only “classics” are worthwhile reading. True, certain “classics” are definitely worth the time, but others are most definitely not.

    It’s also important to judge books in context. A rudimentary sketch on a cave wall may have great historical significance, but it is by no means “great art” by the relevant modern standards.

    This applies to literature as well. Jane Austen, for example, wrote many great books – for her time. Many of her techniques are very rough by modern standards, and we should judge her works accordingly. Yes, Austen was probably responsible for great developments in literature, but that doesn’t mean her works are automatically better than more recent writing. Even classics must be re-evaluated from time to time.

    In my opinion, Harry Potter is, at best, a fluffy, mindless read. At worst, it’s an example of shoddy plot structure and cheesy morality. I will honestly say that the series is -fun- to read … but that’s not the point.

    A lot of people praise Harry Potter as a great series simply because it got kids to read. I don’t believe it.

    From what I’ve seen, kids that got “into reading” through Harry Potter basically stick to reading ONLY Harry Potter. And if kids read nothing BUT Harry Potter, they haven’t developed a love of reading at all. They’ve only developed a fanatical fetish for the Harry Potter world. Not unlike a fanatical crush on a teenage pop idol. And just as unhealthy.

    There are far better books out there than Harry Potter. But as long as people continue to equate reading Harry Potter with “fostering a love of reading,” those other books will never get read. In some ways, Harry Potter has done more to damage reading than to help it.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 11:19 am

      Jeffrey, that’s kind of how I’ve felt after reading James Joyce. I can appreciate its place in the history of literature, its ambition and depth and innumerable linguistic tricks, and still not want a whole lot to do with it.

      Mark Twain has some great quotes about Jane Austen:

      “Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

      and

      “I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

  • Vanessa August 21, 2009, 10:35 am

    Anything written capable of inspiration is worthy.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 11:13 am

      Vanessa, I’ve been saying something similar when people ask what music I listen to. I listen to anything that moves me. If something can move me, I want to hear it. Some genres don’t move me as often, but I’m not opposed to trying things. I feel the same way about writing and reading. If a book can move me in some way that I enjoy, I want to read it. I’m just not going to find what I’m looking for in every John Grisham novel.

  • Niel August 21, 2009, 10:57 am

    I’m a strong believer in reading what you enjoy.

    I didn’t like reading for so many years cause grade school teachers forced me to read books I didn’t like and I think it hurt my potential to learn more in the long run.

    With that said, some of the old works are difficult to interpret so it’s understandable how people won’t read them. Then again, it’s beneficial to try a few selections.

    I didn’t like Romeo & Juliet, but Caesar wasn’t so bad.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 11:14 am

      Niel, someone smarter than me has said that every book has its reader. When kids at the library tell me they hate to read because it’s boring, it’s quickly apparent that they’re only reading (or being assigned) books that are boring to them.

  • Jodi at Joy Discovered August 21, 2009, 11:39 am

    Hi Josh,
    I like what Vanessa wrote, that “Anything written capable of inspiration is worthy.” I agree with Bloom that classics should continue to be taught in school, though. It makes me sad when really, really great writing is forgotten about because new and popular books take their place. If the Harry Potter series gets kids to read, and gets kids to love reading, that’s wonderful, but I don’t think J.K. Rowlings should replace Mark Twain in the classroom.
    Great topic!

  • Robby G August 21, 2009, 1:55 pm

    Stephen King introduced me to being interested in what I read. But after sometime I realized that it was utter empty-minded nonsense and moved on to Literature such as Dostoevsky and Lermontov, etc.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 2:03 pm

      @Robby G. I got your book, by the way. I’m about 5 chapters in and will have something for you soon.

  • Robby G August 21, 2009, 2:15 pm

    @Josh: Sounds great mate, I really hope you’re enjoying it. 🙂 Also, I have been reading Lermontov’s classic novel and was thinking of writing a review on it. I was wondering if you were interested in me submitting the review as a guest post when I’ll finish reading the novel. Let me know. Cheers!
    ps: Very interesting responses you’ve got going here on this post. Opened a can of worms, as someone mentioned.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 2:48 pm

      @Robby G. Right you are. Whether it’s better to read something than nothing I’ll leave up to everyone, I do believe it’s better to care than not care. Lots of strong feelings and opinions here. I’d love that Lermontov review. Whenever you’re ready, just paste it into the contact form and I’ll let you know when I get it.

  • Gayze August 21, 2009, 2:45 pm

    I love Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien … I also love JK Rowling, and my kids and I have read, out loud, all of the Harry Potter books, together. Perhaps they’re not the most expertly crafted books, but they are incredibly entertaining, and they keep the kids turning the pages. After reading them together we each read them again, alone.

    And we read the Chronicles of Narnia together, too.

    I’m all for getting kids to read, and have always encouraged them to read a wide variety of books. The truth is, though, the Potter books are some of the few they’ve read again and again.

    If it gets their noses between the pages, instead of stuck to the video game screen, that’s got to be a good thing.

    “IMO”, of course.
    🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 2:50 pm

      Gayze, my son is 18 months old. I’ll be very curious to see how my thoughts change when he’s old enough to be choosing things to read.

  • Casey Brazeal (North and Clark) August 21, 2009, 3:17 pm

    Reading like playing chess, speaking another language, or learning an instrument is good for you. Good for the mind and good for the disposition.

    If you learn two words in spanish felicitaciones amigo. If you learn enough to read Cervantes pues hiciste un poco mas. But even if you only learn the swear word j@#$% c@#$%& at least you learned something.

  • Your Mother August 21, 2009, 3:37 pm

    I don’t care what Bloom says. I’m going to keep reading my Harry Potter, and Stephen King and Anne Rice until my eyes fall out. However, I also like classics. I’ll try just about anything because I LOVE reading. So what category do I fall into?

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 4:14 pm

      Megan, you fall into the category of bottomless sass. In case you’re wondering why I never used our recordings, I want to do them on Skype again. They definitely got better as we went.

  • Your Mother August 21, 2009, 3:38 pm

    BTW, this isn’t your mother, it’s Megan. I’m on mom’s computer.

  • Allison Reynolds August 21, 2009, 5:13 pm

    Bloom is an ass. I get so angry I could spit when “good” literature, a subjective term, is used.

    How many authors out there know they are capable of writing a classic? How do you judge good literature if you never read bad?

    Humans like a good story. Screw all the snobs that say it has to be written a certain way.

  • hoong yee lee krakauer August 21, 2009, 5:50 pm

    hi josh
    as reluctant as i am to admit this, i actually grew to love classical opera and symphonies because of bugs bunny and porky pig. they made this music fun, accessible and ok for me as a kid. now, many years later (with a masters degree in piano performance, no less!) i must say that i have high hopes for my 11 year old to love all literature as much as he does the captain underpants series and now the diary of a wimpy kid. we still do dramatic readings of these books in goofy voices together to bring these characters to life. that he cares to carve out time away from the remote and spend time with me to do this is everything, bloom or not.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 6:00 pm

      @hoong yee lee krakauer Nothing to be reluctant about. Everything I know about Wagner started with “Kill Da Wabbit.”

  • Kira August 21, 2009, 5:52 pm

    For me, reading is like exercise …

    Many people see exercise as a ‘means to an end’—they want to get stronger, faster, leaner, fitter etc.. Similarly, many people treat reading in the same way—they want to get smarter, informed, more ‘cultured’ etc..

    That’s not my bag, baby.

    I fell in love with ‘the now’ of exercising. Sure I like ‘the results’ of training my body, but the underlying motivation is a passion for the process. Similarly, I fell in love with the ‘experience’ of reading—that feeling of immersion, where you enter ‘the now’ and lose sense of time passing.

    Sure, ‘what’ you read is important (just as what exercise you do is important). But, from my perspective, the key is to get people to ‘fall in love’ with the process. It’s much easier to introduce higher quality reading material to a person who actually enjoys reading … even if it is Harry Potter.

    BTW. I also think reading has a degree of subjectivity about it. And many literature experts—particularly those i encountered at university—refuse to acknowledge this and treat their list of ‘quality’ literature as objective fact. They are particularly ignorant of the underlying social, economic and cultural factors that influence their reading ‘tastes’.

    My own reading palate would be ridiculed by many literature experts. But I like what I like, whilst at the same time I’m open to new reading experiences. I think that makes me a ‘quality’ reader, something that I think is far more important than the ‘quality’ of what I happen to be reading at the time.

    *I read about 80% non-fiction—predominantly stuff from the ‘soft’ sciences. My favorite fiction? Shakespeare’s tragedies (do plays count?), Asterix & Obelix and Tolkien.

    Cheers

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 6:04 pm

      Kira, that’s brilliant. What you’re calling “the now” is too often looked down on. For me the process of reading is one of the things that helps maintain my attention span. I’m not sure when “escapism” became such a dirty word. I don’t have any qualms about reading much of anything–I don’t think you can read as a pure spectator. You have to engage in some way.

      And yeah, I think plays count.

      If anyone else is reading Kira’s analysis here, you might be picturing him as some office-bound academic. He’s actually a Muay Thai fighter and a genius.

  • Jim August 21, 2009, 6:33 pm

    This is a fascinating post and question. And one that I venture to say does not have a simple, black and white answer.

    As a kid, I enjoyed reading because my mother enjoyed reading. She would go into the backyard during the summer months, lather up, and crack open a paperback. I learned to read from an early age, but her love of reading translated to me without her jamming it down my throat. And most of what I read as a kid/teenager was sci-fi and mass market fiction. The classics are what I read in school.

    With the exception of Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING, I hated every single book I was forced to read in school. You name it: Shakespeare, TALE OF TWO CITIES, GRAPES OF WRATH, everything. I have since gone back and reread them and not surprisingly enjoyed them. When teachers are forced to teach a particular book because the curriculum says so, my bet is that you’re not going to give it your all unless you’re a stellar teacher. (That’s a gross generalization, obviously, based on my own personal experience.) And that translates to the students. Unhappy teachers kill the classics, not the books themselves.

    As for reading trash or not, I’m happy to see anyone pick up a book. Do I think reading “bad” books (to use your word, Josh) is fulfilling? No. I prefer nonfiction, “literary fiction,” or a classic. But that’s just me.

    I don’t think most writers set out to write garbage. They do the best they can with what they have. As a writer, I know that a 200-word blog post can be just as difficult in its own way as a 4,000-word article. Let’s not even talk about a novel, a concept I can’t even wrap my mind around. So these writers of “bad” books have sat down at a computer screen, used their imaginations, put words together, found an agent, and gotten a book deal. Not too shabby.

    Will I necessarily read what they produce? Maybe not. But I support their choice to write what they want, the publishers to publish it, and the reader to read it…even when I don’t agree with it. (Yes, I can be as big a literary snob as anyone.)

    Will the classics endure the test of time? I believe they will. How? I don’t know. I use them to stimulate my mind and my imagination and I pass the word to each and every friend who will listen. Maybe the key is word of mouth.

    And there endeth the rambling pontification. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 6:39 pm

      Jim, you just made me laugh my head off. I was talking about this with a very smart–too smart for his own good–colleague at work. He says he doesn’t have any interest in anything older than 100 years. One thing we both agreed on was that Chopin’s The Awakening was the perfect example of what we hated in high school:) I loved The Grapes of Wrath my junior hear, but Chopin….NOOOOOOO!!!

      You’re right about 200 words sometimes feeling very long and difficult. As for the novel–I spent three years writing one, and I still can’t wrap my head around it. When it comes down to it, I guess it was like doing three years worth of 200 word posts.

      You don’t ramble as much as you think.

  • Daisy August 21, 2009, 7:06 pm

    I read a lot of professional texts and articles (teacher!), so I make a point of keeping light pleasure reading available at home. It keeps me balanced and sane.

  • Jim August 21, 2009, 7:14 pm

    Josh, I haven’t read THE AWAKENING since high school, so I’m not sure how I’d feel about it at this stage of my life. But it was the only book I read during that tortured time that spoke to me. (Hmm, let’s not delve too deeply into that one, shall we? I like to keep my repressed memories FIRMLY repressed.)

  • Ilaria August 21, 2009, 8:05 pm

    Hi Josh,

    I am unequivocally on the side of all reading is good.
    Take, for example, the debate around reading books on paper versus reading books on the Amazon Kindle.

    Librarians as a group tend to say, “bad Kindle, you will kill the paper book with all its lore and tactility, blah, blah, blah.” I think that anything that facilitates and promotes reading does only good things for humanity. So I am a fan of the Kindle. I have been given one as a gift and since I’ve had it my reading has increased, and not only that, I think I have on average bought a few more paper books a month than I usually do. I just get so fired up I can’t stop.
    Until the age of 30 I read only classics, for reasons I will be writing about in my own blog/s in the near future. Then I decided that I was missing out on what was going on right now in the world, so I began to alternate something old and something new.
    I’m so glad I did! It would be terrible not to know about Harry Potter (I’ve read all 7 of course), and not to know anything about Stephen King. They are part of our literary culture and it is important to know them and know about them. I also think they give a valuable contribution to literature. Both those authors have enormous amounts of imagination and that is a wonderful thing, whose importance must not be underestimated.
    I love literary writers, and I gobble them up with enthusiasm, but I also love mysteries, philosophy, epistolary novels, fantasy, science fiction… a good novel is a good novel, no matter the genre, and there is nothing wrong with being a little “light”. And once in a while we all feel like a beach book. It’s like candy for the brain, chocolate for the mind. How can that be a bad thing?

    • Josh Hanagarne August 21, 2009, 8:31 pm

      Ilaria, I have never read a book on a beach. Do people really do that? 🙂

  • Beth L. Gainer August 21, 2009, 9:49 pm

    Hey Josh,
    I respect both Bloom and King because when all is said and done, they both have great insights. I don’t like the horror genre, so I don’t read King’s stuff (afraid of the bugaboos in the night), but I love, adore, and admire his book On Writing and know he’s an excellent writer.

    In this book, King does not trash the classics; in fact, he makes the best point ever: that we all should read everything and anything we can get our hands on. And I agree that Rowling has done a wonderful thing by making reading a joy for kids and adults alike.

    I believe that we need to read. It doesn’t matter so much what we read, but we need to be informed about what’s out there — classics and contemporary.

    I teach English, and what I’m finding is a problem larger than whether people prefer the classics or contemporary works. What I’m finding is very alarming: Many students aren’t reading. Anything. I agree with King that reading a lot makes one more skilled at writing and that great writers are well-read.

    I love to read — mostly fiction — and I feel so deprived when I don’t have the time to. I’m too busy doing things like writing comments on blogs (LOL).

    By the way, Bloom probably would count us bloggers as belonging in the “trash” section, don’t you think?

  • Cathy August 21, 2009, 9:53 pm

    I don’t want to get too much into the merits of Harry Potter per se, only to argue adamantly against the notion that it’s some kind of swill. It’s a perfectly healthy part of a balanced literary diet, alongside books that are written more skillfully and explore the human condition more deeply. As a mother of young children (voracious readers all, though Harry has a special place in their hearts), I share Nick Kristof’s view that the opportunity to read Harry Potter aloud is a pretty good reason to have kids. I’ve also found the books a useful springboard for discussions with my children about the moral questions posed therein. Sure, a more industrious mother might be reading them Dostoevsky or Kierkegaard, but whatever Jo Rowling’s shortcomings as a prose stylist, I think she’s a heck of a storyteller.

    Well, sorry, it seems I did get too much into the merits of Harry Potter. But put me in the “better to read something ‘bad’ than nothing at all” camp.

  • Al in Vancouver August 21, 2009, 11:22 pm

    I feel guilty whenever I read pulpy stuff. But I do read it occasionally.

  • Hey Josh, this is a great question and it has really made me think. In fact, I had to sit through a whole cup of coffee to figure out how I felt about it before commenting. I think it’s a question about this ‘bad’ word. Who gets to say what is bad? I think Twilight is one series of books I’ll never pick up in my entire life, but I have friends who love it. Same goes for about every book/mag/poem/soup can label out there. Maybe I’m just a bit too hippie about the whole thing, but if you’re reading – and you like it – then you’re probably learning something. That’s all good.

  • Gayze August 22, 2009, 6:51 am

    We all must keep in mind, too, that the Classics weren’t classics when they were written. A hundred years from now, who knows, will Rowling sit on the shelves next to Cervantes?

    My bad. 🙂

  • Panayiotis Pete Karabetis August 22, 2009, 11:12 am

    Oh, Twilight! I’ve heard so much about it, but haven’t seen it yet. I feel reading something is better than reading nothing because it keeps the brain active. Period. Also, I feel that reading Stephen Kind and Harry Potter books will eventually lead to reading other books and pave the way for deeper learning when the reader is ready. Maybe people aren’t ready to read the classics until they’ve thoroughly read the modern classics first. Whether you start with a classical or modern foundation, at least you start somewhere.

    Pete | The Tango Notebook

  • Jessica Marie August 23, 2009, 11:49 am

    Reading trash is better than reading nothing at all. I believe this because I believe that it can lead to bigger and better things. How many times can you read a recycled old plot with bad writing before you want more? That’s when people start moving on to the so called “classics.” You can’t learn to run before you learn to crawl.

  • Stephanie Smith August 24, 2009, 7:29 am

    As someone who started reading voraciously at a very young age, I am FIRMLY in the “ALL reading is good” camp. It is more than whether the book is a professed classic or a “trashy” Harlequin. The reason all reading is good is that is engages you in a way TV or other medias don’t -you are alone (hopefully) in your own mind, creating the voices, emotions and sense of the plot. Every person who reads puts their own personal stamp into it, because our own opinions and experiences make the characters unique to each reader.
    Get 5 people together who have all read the same book and you are always amazed at how different people’s opinions are and their “feeling” of the book. That’s why I didlike audio books. I don’t want someone else’s inflections in the story – I want to immerse myself and soak up the entire experience.
    I got a tad carried away, but my final point is: books also teach spelling & vocabulary. Some will argue, but I know this to be true. Even in a histoical romance you can learn a bit of history and a nostalic whiff of language in days gone by.
    READ, PEOPLE, READ!!

  • Ethan August 26, 2009, 2:45 pm

    I’m much of two minds on this. (Sorry for coming late to this discussion!)

    On the one hand there’s Bloom–his original rant can be found here:

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/

    Josh, I’m with you–I wouldn’t qualify a whole lot of what Bloom says or writes as a “rant,” but here I think the word fits the bill. Bloom complains about that Stephen King’s books do nothing other than “keep the publishing world afloat.” I suspect Bloom owes some portion of his livelihood to the publishing world, so this seems like an odd complaint for him to be leveling against an author. The rest of his statement comes off as fairly curmudgeonly, and falls prey to the trap that cathces nearly everyone complaining about the dumbing down of culture: the final substance of the argument is usually “people are reading X, when they should be reading Y, which I like a lot more than X.” (Notice Bloom’s oft-repeated props to Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, and Thomas Pynchon. He really likes those guys. Not without good reason, but it’s clear he’s expressing a preference.)

    That said, I do think some books are better than others. Reading anything isn’t necessarily better than reading nothing–I’ve read at least a few things in my life that I now wish I hadn’t. I think there are works out there that are so debased and consciously vile that anyone reading them will probably feel ashamed to be human for a while afterward. I think there are a handful of authors whose works are such that the world might be a slightly better place had they decided on some other vocation. There aren’t many of them, but they do exist.

    Then we have Shakespeare. I sometimes find Shakespeare tiresome, but sometimes I find him magnificent. Either way, I can recognize the historical impact he has on the language that I speak today, and on the culture I live in even in the good ol’, dumbed-down U.S.A. Even people who’ve never read Romeo and Juliet (and I agree, Casey, it’s not his best play) usually are familiar with the name, and probably have some idea what it’s about.

    So there are the extremes–the sublime and the depraved. Most reading, of course, falls somewhere in between. I’m not impressed by Twilight (which I admit I’ve never read, but by and large the teenage vampire genre doesn’t do much for me), but if my daughter wants to read it, she certainly can, and I won’t try to persuade her that she’s wasting her time. My feeling is, you could probably always be reading something better/more fulfilling/more humanizing than whatever you happen to be reading (or not reading) at the moment. I read things now and then that don’t do anything for me other than keep me entertained. I try and balance that with looking for the books that will change me for the better, or deepen the way I look at the world. Books like that are great, and a lot of the “classics” fall into that category. But reading those books can be exhausting–sometimes you just need to relax.

    Oh, and Vanessa–you commented: “Anything written capable of inspiration is worthy.” I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Could you explain?

    • Josh Hanagarne August 26, 2009, 4:00 pm

      Ethan, I hoped you’d see this. I just read Blood Meridian again, by the way. How’s your Halloween story coming?

  • The "Real" World's Strongest Librarian August 29, 2009, 3:53 am

    Reading anything is better than nothing!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 29, 2009, 7:37 am

      @The “Real” World’s Strongest Librarian. Are you still working in libraries? Just curious, not defensive:)

  • Brian Heys October 1, 2009, 2:49 pm

    Sorry I’m late!

    I think any reading is good, just so long as you’re reading something. However, I would advocate only reading things you enjoy (unless you are required to read something you don’t). Life is too short, and there are too many other books out there that you haven’t discovered.

    Having said that, I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I loved the title, loved the premise, and loved the opening paragraph, so I just had to buy it … but I’m starting to struggle now, about 50000 words in. I’m sticking with it for a while, because I believe it’s the translator’s voice I don’t like, not Tolstoy’s story. I only hope I don’t drop out at 100k!

    For the record, I don’t get why people slate Stephen King, other than for the fact he’s successful. Some of his descriptions can be breathtaking and beautiful. I would argue that some of his work should be classed as literary, particularly some of his short stories.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 1, 2009, 6:44 pm

      Brian, I had to listen to Anna Karenina on audio to get through it. I like the story but hit a wall like you did, at least in print. And I don’t care what anyone says about King–he’s given me some of the greatest enjoyments of my life.