There’s no such thing as a bad book, right?

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.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “There’s no such thing as a bad book, right?

  1. Wow, your books are exactly like Mr. C and myself. I have an embarrassing amount of romance novels and Mr. C has been known to crack open a COLLEGE TEXTBOOK to review things we learned in college.

    Goodluck with the smart novels. Let me know how it goes! 🙂

  2. Cindy Wall

    What a fun blog, CT! Well done (as a Jane Austen character would say). “The Dead” by J. Joyce is a big fav of mine (and the movie version is lovely). But I can’t manage the novels, no way, no how.

  3. My sister abhorred reading for years. Wouldn’t read a book, much less the back of the cereal box. But then I got her some really cheesy romance novel about vampires. (No, not that one . . . ) and now she can’t get enough. She reads maybe three books a week. Is it “literature”? Not really. But does it matter, if it makes her happy? Hell no . . .

    Please . . . don’t let the reading habits of others make you feel small. Start where you’re at and expand as you see fit. If you don’t enjoy what you’re reading, then . . . once again . . . what’s the point . . .

  4. There is no reason to read Faulkner, don’t worry. But you know what’s an awesomely good read? Like, everything.

    You write more intelligently than half the people who read those “quality” books, so you know what? You are reading the smart books.

  5. kathleen

    Great blog, I put myself in a similar category (LOVE to read, largely have let it fall by the wayside).

    Taking action to expand your literary horizons and opening up yourself to new ideas, think you’ve got something there…

    Let us know how the journey goes…

  6. I feel like I could have written this. I used to read books constantly and I loved the classics most of all (Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, hell even Nabakov). But Kafka? Faulkner? Na-uh. I feel like a book loser. I’m totally getting on this reading train with you. Maybe I’ll even start with Joyce, too. I know I have one of his books that I bought and never read (talk about a book poser!)

  7. Kimmer

    Just to make you feel smarter today, I have no idea who Joyce or Eco even are! 🙂 And to even add to that ego boost, you were part of the reason I started picking up books again (yes your 4 shelves of books in your den were also influential), and I’m lovin’ it! (Sorry McDonald’s…copyright infringement was not intentional here….). I figure if you could soak in 3 football games, ½ a book, and a six pack of beer on any given Saturday, then I knew I could at least start with the Prelude and Chapter One. Keep turning those pages sister!

  8. Jen–my college textbooks were all sold the day classes ended, and sometimes sooner.
    CW–thanks for dropping by. Come back anytime.
    Ty–Oh, I don’t really feel too badly–as slovenly as they are, my reading habits are still better than most.
    Rass–to quote your own self–“you’re delicious.”
    Kath and Gwen–come on along…maybe Rass can be our tutor.
    Kimmer–shoot, if I can do all that I really AM a goddess!

  9. Julie Fisher

    Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” is, so far, the only Faulkner book I have ever accomplished. But, oh my, was it ever great! Hilarious, fantastic, mostly flat-out hilarious. I believe it is very unlike the rest of his writing. As another commercial is quoted, “Try it. You’ll like it.”

  10. mongoliangirl

    I would like to say, ‘Oh, I just read Faulkner because I’m all retarded and sleep deprived!’ But that would be a lie. I’ve always liked to read, but fell in love with reading when I was introduced to him in a Southern Literature class in college. In other words, I could not agree more that we should read what we love to read. Otherwise? What’s the point?

  11. mongoliangirl

    Ummmmm…someone else who cause me to love to read who is a ‘southern gal’…Eudora Welty. Have you ever read any of her short stories?

  12. I can totally relate to this post. I go through reading spurts usually but sometimes I can´t get through a damn thing and find myself putting down book after book halfway through, leaving me feeling…dumb. And that´s when I tell myself it´s ok to read lame magazines, just blogs, and listen to audio books instead of really throwing myself into dense reading.

    It´s been so long since I´ve read a really good book that just blows my mind. And some books I know will blow my mind and I don´t have the patience for them right now.

    What about short stories? Sometimes I´m just not up for a serious read, unless it´s short. I love Juan Rulfo for short stories (Mexican lit, but I´ve only ever read his stuff translated into English). Try the Burning Plain and Other Stories. The messages of the stories are complex sometimes (and harsh), but written usually in first person making them much more readable. Although Faulkner writes too in first person and I don´t graspe any of it either.

  13. MG–Welty is easier…but I really do like Flannery O’Conner. Another great Southerner is Peter Taylor–especially A Summons to Memphis.

    Blues–for short stories, try Jhumpa Lahiri–great Indian tales. And her novels are good too.

  14. Niece Whit

    Your young relative must be VERY intelligent and fashionable.

  15. We also have a wide variety of books in our home. I have Jane Austen sitting on the shelf next to Anita Shreeve and Zora Neale Hurston has taken up residence near Brian Keene. Mr. Dingo has a bunch of philosophy and practical books. We borrow from each other’s bookshelves all the time. Don’t let what others read (or what they say they have read) deter you from enjoying reading.

    My admission? I’m a literature teacher and I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye. There! I’ve said it! I imagine the academic stormtroopers are on their way to my apartment to take back my diploma.

  16. If you can handle Joyce, then Faulkner is a breeze. Even with Joyce’s short stories you’re so completely out of context that it’s bewildering. At least you ‘know’ the people who Faulkner writes about.

  17. Robbi

    Don’t feel bad Cindy; I’m a librarian and I don’t get to read that much! I mean, I read at work all day, but they’re not books and then when I get home & have time to relax, I’m trying to just keep up with my Newsweek & Vanity Fair subscriptions. I was very pleased that I finished “Marley & Me” over Christmas break 🙂 Oh, and Umberto Eco? “Foucault’s Pendulum” is the one book that I ever started and made me feel like an utter moron. I don’t think I ever made it past page 50.

  18. I read all the time. ALL the time. But I don’t really read the books I’m supposed to, the books that make you erudite and learned and well-versed on the classics. I just read what I want to.

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