Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Really Don't have to Read Everything!

Feeling guilty because you haven't actually read Updike? (I am to some extent since I read Couples and a the first two of the Rabbit novels so long ago they probably don't count anymore.)

James Delingpole in The Telegraph absolves you ... from any bookguilt actually:
You can still count as a civilised person, with the right to comment as much as you wish on the key literary issues of our time, without having read all the books you are supposed to have read.

Partly you're excused by the issue of time. In the early 19th century, it might just have been possible for a sprightly reader with bags of leisure time to whizz through all the great novels that had ever been written. In the early 21st century, it's an impossibility.

Mainly though, you're excused by the fact that there's no novelist out there so essential that an unfamiliarity with his work represents a crime against taste and good judgment.
Whilst he's not arguing against the literary canon, he says :
... once you've had a reasonable grounding in sufficient "proper" literature to form your taste, you should never again read a book out of duty. Far too many of the (depressingly few) novel-readers I know do, though. They feel compelled to read the must-read new literary prizewinner; the must-read new, vibrant-insight-into-remote-foreign-culture novel. They have this idea in their heads, instilled from having to revere the classics at school, that literature is a lofty thing, that the best writing is fine writing or stuff they don't quite understand or feels slightly hard work.


Anonymous said...

"you should never again read a book.. out of duty"

Quite so.

Anonymous said...

Fantastically liberating viewpoint, isn't it? I have had my share of 'appropriate' book reading. And i know lots of ppl who keep their eyes glued to the choices spelt out by critics and awards...There's nothing wrong with being guided by critics and awards some of the time, but to do so at the expense of developing your own individual likes and dislikes is quite scary, i think... Can't help feeling that those who rely predominantly on the judgments of others (especially when it comes to something as subjective as writing, and reading) have wasted the short life they're given reading books that OTHER people like, disliking books that OTHER people dislike, and never finding out what they actually do enjoy, and by extension who they really are.

Life to me is a lot like book reading that way; it can be difficult to respect and stand up for your own choices, but whether it works or it doesn't, it's nice to live my life and my tastes and not someone else's.


lil ms d said...

whew. i had a complex because an ex boyfriend kept harping on the russians. tried and fell asleep.

now to read new weekly.

Anonymous said...

I know, right? Crime and Punishment is barely readable :P

Anonymous said...

hey...don't you bang on crime and punishment. one of the books that influenced me (in a bad way) is this one. that raskolnikov fellow fucked my head up.

and if any of you don't pick up the russians by twenty five...forget it.

ah pong

Anonymous said...

Agreed. You have to read all the Russians before you're old and know better, otherwise you'll realize it's all boring and draggy and you don't have enough time in your life to read it lol :)

lil ms d said...

very offtopic but may be up your alley: need to know where i can get info and borrow books on may 13. i have one or two but can't keep buying as these books are expensive! any leads? this is for a paper im doing. thanks.

Liz said...

I went through period where people told me that I should read more "appropriate literature" when I took up literature for my A-Levels. Was traumatised by Sylvia Plath, bored stiff with Virginia Woolf but fell in love with Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Su Tong, and Kate Mansfield).

I do like the morbid streak of the Russian authors though, but gave up on modern lit "greats" like Salman Rushdie. (Snoozeville for me).

What Lit you like is such a personal thing; one many not suit the other. ;)