Clearly Malfunctioning in Many Important Regards

I Have Standards for What I Read.
Tuckova asked me why I never blog about the books I'm reading, even though I provide a list of what I'm reading and what I've recently read. This feels more like a topic for discussion than for a monologue, and I wanted your opinions, Claw.
     Basically I avoid the topic of books because people get really het up in these discussions, and you can end up really hurting some people's feelings. Here is a disorganized list of statements, any of which might be good topic sentences if I were writing an essay or hosting a debate on this subject. None are meant to be statements of absolute fact. Consider them talking points, maybe. If you feel like addressing any of them, I think the resulting discussion could help shed light on why I avoid the topic.
     The points are numbered only for E-Z reference, not because they are in any order of importance. Also! They are stated kinda simple-mindedly, but this in no way should be taken as an affront to anyone's intelligence!

     1. People are very emotionally involved with the things that they read.

     2. Some people internalize the concept "you are what you read" and therefore feel personally attacked if you criticize a book they like/love/admire.

     3.a. Insecure people tend to say things like "[book] is great" or "[book] is one of the best books ever written" without the preface "I believe" or "I think." (While among friends the "I believe" part might be omitted as given, in a public forum this can't be assumed.)
     3.b.When is it okay to express opinion as fact? When the speaker is a connoisseur? A critic? An expert on the subject (and what determines expertise)? A rabid fan?
     3.c. Does the consensus of a certain community allow such statements? Like is it okay to call Catch-22 a "great" book because society generally agrees that it is so?

     4.a. Some people reject certain books because they are popular. Is this always snobbery? Is it ever valid?
     4.b. Is it acceptable for one to say that The DaVinci Code is a terrible, terrible book even if one hasn't read it?

     5. What is your definition of "elitism"? How do you feel about it? Is it ever okay?

Okay, that should get us rolling. As the title of this post suggests...well, we all know where this is eventually headed. But we're not there yet. Keep your wands in your robes, people. We'll get to that boy wizard soon enough.
[17:57 est]
I have a lot of friends that are HUNGRY for book discussion, but a big part of my problem is that, beyond a simple synopsis and a "Recommend? yes/no," I don't care. I don't care! Many's the time a friend (and I'm looking at you, Miss Barnes) gets all stoked about, you know, let's parse out Bret Easton Ellis's every M.O., & while to some extent I am slightly interested on the level of these books are best interpreted as hyperbolic, I do not care about what he might think about Iran-Contra. I'm not sure why this is.
     For a long time growing up, I totally had "It was in a book and is thus true" syndrome; while I no longer do so, I guess I am just more interested, with books, in taking them in and then moving along; I save the extensive parsing and criticism for art, & also for street fashion. Are you seriously still wearing Uggs, or is that some kind of joke?
[15:41 pst]
Well, I hear ya. But I'm not talking about a book-groupy/English-classy discussion of a particular book, so much as a discussion of reading itself and the social/ intellectual pitfalls associated with what is generally considered to be a noble pastime. Are you saying you don't want to talk about it either? Because that's cool if you don't want to. But I'd be really interested, like I said, in your responses to any of the statements above, there. Those numbered dealies up yonder.
[19:45 est]
trouble started by Universal Donor
December 12, 2005 • 6:02 PM est • #

Comments from Foolish Amateurs:

I think the fact that you haven't read the Harry Potter books a sign of your stubborness more than any other moral failing and/or virtue on your behalf (that's to UD, obviously).

But also, I think that in general, _any_ book review, whether it be anonymous or in the New York Times, is understood to be just the opinion of the person who's writing it. That is, you don't _have_ to say "It is in my opinion, cultivated from a lifetime of reading mysteries, that The Mysteries of Udolfo is a pisspoor example of the noir genre." Because only an unsigned editorial pretends to be the collective opinion of anyone. Book reviews--especially on the internet--are understood to be subjective.

But yes. "Catch-22" is a great book. And if you say it isn't, I will be very upset and feel personally attacked, until I realize that your not thinking so means that you are a stupid ass-face and should never be allowed near the printed word again. We all express our book opinions as fact. Which is silly, because only I'm right about books. At most, I'll give you, "This is a shitty book, but I could see how someone like you might find it entertaining." [cue upturned nose]

That's just the perils of being a book reader.

With all that said, I agree with Claudia quite a bit when I say, "who gives a damn about actually parsing why a book is great or shitty?" I don't have to write a paper on it anymore, so when I ask you about the book, I want to know a) is it good, and b) is it worth my time. If it's a great book that I've read, I might say, "Hey, I loved the part where he talked about German considering someone 'morphine-seeky' rather than being defined as a 'morphine addict.'" But it won't get much more complicated than that. It shouldn't! Because reading is supposed to be fun...not the talking about the reading. It's like those g'damn Hemingway stories that are iceberg fiction--all submerged and designed for classroom conversation. Just throw that damn story aside and read "For Whom the Bell Tolls" instead. You'll thank me.

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 11:52 PM est  

OK...well for a long time, i refused to read harry potter because of its rampent popularity that was setting wild fires throughout my social life. however, one day, i became bored and started reading the first one (begrudgingly, of course). turned out it was pretty good! after that i decided to give the da vinci code a try, and even though i found it to be rather ummm...geared toward stupid people, it was an entertaining read. so, in response to your question, UD, i do think it is wrong to decide not to try out a book because of it's popularity. i have found out that it's just not a good idea. maybe books are popular because they're good? who knows!
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 10:52 AM est  

oh...and that last comment was by me, lauren.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 10:53 AM est  

and here i thought you were ignoring me.

couldn't you do little one sentence synopses of the books you've read and reasons for your abandonment of the books you've abandoned? i'm not asking for a dissertation or anything, but i would be curious to know what you think of the books i have read, and then maybe on the basis of those get a better idea of whether i would enjoy the ones i haven't. for example.

also, any glimpse into the delightful expanse of your ginormous mind is a good thing to give your adoring fans. doncha think?
# posted by Blogger tuckova : 1:38 PM est  

The only books I have discussed at length with any of my brilliant, over-educamated friends in the last few years are the Potter books.

Personally, I think this is largely due to the 'slow reveal' effect. The mystery unravelled. Like when we all kept talking about who might have killed Laura Palmer. Now we know it was McCarthy-era suicidal newscaster Don Hollenbeck, but at the time- hell, for all we knew it could have been the midget.

Did UD even know that the Potter books worked that way? A person at work was telling me that she had read book one and had just started book six, not having read any of the titles between. I explained that these are not Nancy Drews. But I shouldn't have been surprised- based on the titles one could easily assume that each book was a stand-alone story, instead of one seventh of an epic.

But epic it 'tis. And if you like talking about books, I suggest getting on board, since it's the only bit of lit that I've seen spark ongoing conversation in the last five years. (with the exception of Charles Burns' 'Black Hole' series and the sexual escapades of David Heatley.)
# posted by Anonymous stinkeefresh : 4:59 PM est  

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