I had a professor once who lectured endlessly about reading material, claiming that the amount of reading did nothing if the material was ‘trash’. His point being, if you did not read great literature, or worthy authors, then reading a library’s worth of substandard literature would still leave you, well, substandard.
Lovely thought, isn’t it? Are you scanning your bookshelves at this reading, with a bit of color on your cheeks, wondering if your selection of great intellect is above par? Well, if you are, cut it out. Personally, I sat in that class, smiling and nodding like the rest of the students who truly needed the decent grade. (ie, someone that pompous does not take kindly to being publicly denounced). But the question still remains; who decides the merits of great literature better than you, the lowly reader?
Reading tastes are subjective; what may qualify as a classic in the public or literary consciousness, may not be enjoyed as such by the reader. Often, mainstream top sellers are viewed with disdain by elitist scholars, or at least by pseudo intellectuals, but perhaps they miss the point. If so many people enjoy a work, then it must say something, and to extend the point, isn’t reading for enjoyment’s sake enough?
Then, too, there always seems to be a number of people that truly believe unless you can quote the ‘greats’, unless you have a working knowledge of, say, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Chaucer, well, the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? Okay, unless you know the classic artists' works, they believe you unintelligent, or at least not as intelligent or educated as they are. Now, I’m not saying these works aren’t a great thing to study, I actually am an admirer of the classics but, of note, many people regurgitate these writings without truly putting their own thought into the process. It’s a shallow depth of understanding that can study a work, repeat standard literary critique, and be done without putting conscious rational analysis into the process. Can this be better than reading a newer book, or one considered trash?
Also amusing to me, Shakespeare was once considered trash, I’m sure many of you are aware. It was rank enough for the groundlings, and theatre performers were not viewed in a good light at that time in our history. So perhaps the critics now are wrong – perhaps some of the trash will be considered classic in a new generation….
Another discussion point, one favored by one of my favorite bloggers, Believin , how much does the reader bring to the work in the first place? It is the reader who brings so much of the analysis and feel to a novel. A careful reader with a vivid imagination is liable to take one picture away from a novel, while a reader prone to skimming and distraction may have a completely different idea of the work. Your experience, details of your life, they all go into your subconscious interpretation of a work.
For instance, have you ever had your heart broken? How did sad love songs, or for that matter, romantic love songs, affect you? Don’t you hear a song at a certain point in time and really identify with the words? Aren’t you possibly doing the same thing in your reading? So what is the reader’s responsibility in the novel?
I don’t know that I’d put any book into the ‘subnormal’ category. Certainly, I’ve read books that didn’t keep my attention, or were badly edited, or perhaps just not my speed. But someone enjoyed it enough to write it, and publish it. I’ve also read a few classics that I hated. I think the read can be about many things; experiencing a new place, winding through beautiful prose, learning a bit, experiencing emotion, thinking about the commonplace, thinking about the extraordinary…. But just as important as these, it’s about the enjoyment.