I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Check that. I don’t read nearly as many books as I used to. I read plenty of blogs and magazines and billboards and bumpers stickers. Do they count?
I’m starting to feel like some sort of literary poseur. People come to our house and see LOTS of books. They’re everywhere and all four bookshelves are full. Especially the biggest in the den–the one most people see. Lots of books up there. And of course, you all know the books-to-intelligence ratio: the more books you own, the smarter you are. Right?
Except if you look closely, you’ll see that the books on my side of the bookcase are, for the most part, popular fiction. Lots of bestsellers. A few Pulitzer Prize winners. An embarrassing amount of chick lit. Look at husband’s side and you’ll see who has the real brains in the family. His collection includes books on chemistry and metallurgy…the complete works of Shakespeare…there’s even one on fungi.
It seems that not only has the quantity of my reading gone down, the quality has as well. So the question is this: is that bad?
I once read about an experiment in a prison. There was a concerted effort to raise the literacy rate among the inmates, but nothing worked. The powers-that-be tried everything to get the prisoners to read. They kept failing. Until someone had the genius idea to give them something to read that they were really interested in–porn. It did the trick (so to speak). The prisoners started reading. From porn they graduated to sports. And from sport, who knows. The point is, they were reading.
A few years ago a young relative of mine wanted to read more, but she wasn’t sure where to start. I gave her a copy of The Devil Wears Prada and she’s been reading ever since. All it took was finding the right book and one about a young girl in the fashion industry was a perfect fit.
And that brings me back to my dilemma.
Lately I’ve been noticing comments on my favorite blogs that reference Faulkner, Umberto Eco and even freaking Kafka. I don’t read things like that and it’s making me feel a little…well…stupid. So I’m hatching a plan to improve my literary inventory. I’m going to start with James Joyce. I have a copy of short stories around here. I read one of them and was surprised by how approachable it was. I was always afraid of Joyce, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. I’ll read the short stories and then move onto the novels.
But please don’t ask me to read Faulkner. I’m Southern to the core, and I don’t understand a word he writes.