Monday, August 31, 2015

"Miserable snobby joy-sucker"

That's how a friend of mine on Twitter characterized the attitude of the author or this article, in which he essentially says all of us hardworking adults out there should read Gunter Grass or Gabriel Garcia Marquez instead of Terry Pratchett, because "Ars longa, vita brevis" or something like that.

The thing that the twitterverse at least is picking up on, is that the author of the article, even though he criticizes Prachett, never read any of his books and in fact, sneers at  the idea. But yet, he presumes to tell the "proles" what they "should" read.

And yes, I get that he's saying "Pratchett is not 'great' literature in the sense that Marquez is 'great' literature" and I would be okay with it if he stopped there. But he goes on to essentially say, "So you should read Marquez and Grass and not Pratchett, and you should always make an extra effort to do the 'hard' stuff." (I'm guessing the writer is also someone who does not own a television because television is too diverting and too easy)

This is an issue with me.

Life is short. But it's also unpleasant sometimes and an escape is often a nice thing. I've read my share of "literary" novels (I read One Hundred Years of Solitude years ago as part of a book club. I tried reading Grass' "The Tin Drum" but couldn't get into it very far). A lot of the modern literary novels - at least, the ones that seem to win awards - that I've tried have disappointed me; they seem mainly to be Cavalcades of Dysfunction where no one seems to be trying to be better. I get that they're great art but in a lot of cases when I read, I am looking for diversion or entertainment.

And for that matter: can't people read BOTH? Can't I read Moby-Dick (which actually may be too funny to be viewed as "literary" by the arbiters, I don't know) and "potboiler" mysteries? Can't a person have a taste for both Boeuf en Daube and greasy cheesebugers?

And I admit, maybe it's shallow of me, but I want at least a few book characters that are, in some ways, *better* than I am, or are at least working to overcome their flaws. Sort of an encouragement, sort of a "we don't have to stay stuck down here in the mud, we can still reach for the stars"idea.

One of the reasons, as I said, I liked "A Rule Against Murder" so much was that at the end, several characters who had been deeply wounded by earlier events in their lives came to realize that their perception had so colored things, that a lot of the pain they experienced was actually self imposed....and they realized that they had the power to step outside of that "box" and begin to heal. And that wasn't presented in a preachy or a self-help way....and it resonated with me.

And I admit, I haven't read much Prachett. I tend to start fantasy novels and not finish them, I don't know why. I know that a lot of people LOVE Prachett and that his prose is entertaining. (I think I'm just more a fan of mysteries than I am of fantasies). I should get The Hogfather back out and read further in to it.

The thing is - as my friend said about the "joy sucking" part, is why should anyone CARE what books another person prefers? I think it's great that a lot of people love Pratchett. Maybe if my brain were wired ever so slightly differently from how it was, I'd have read every single book he wrote by now.

I think one of the things I found slightly distasteful in the article was the attitude of "If you don't spend every waking moment improving yourself, you are wasting your life. Reading books for entertainment is wasting your life." That you're not putting in enough effort, somehow. And why should this guy tell us what we can and cannot like, or should and should not do in cases that are not morality-involved. (Yes, I think it is very good for a writer to say:"Murdering other people is wrong and you should not do it." It seems ridiculous and overly involved to me to say "Reading series fantasy novels is wrong and you should not do it.")

And yes, this is one of my "issues" - I don't like someone pointing at me and going, "I don't think you're good enough by my standards" because dangit, I have extremely high standards for myself and who are you to say I am not meeting sufficiently high standards? That if I'm not going around tragically sad because life is so awful because the literary novel I am currently reading shows how awful it is, I'm shallow - that's the implication I get from some people who sneer at, for example, the reading of mystery novels.

(And also being told what I should and should not eat. Or how much I should exercise. Or any of the other million and one "shoulds" that it's very easy for someone who is not-me to determine is "good" for me, without actually living my life or being me. The sort of one-size-fits-all advice that is so commonly given out now. Oh, yes, very well and good to say, "You should do 20 hours of volunteer work per week" but dear would-be-director-of-my-life, WHEN? When I leave the house at 7 am and return most days around 4 pm, with work in tow for the next day, and when my weekends are often devoted to more work. Mostly I just want to be LEFT ALONE. I'm forty-six. I'm old enough to make my own decisions and ALSO old enough to realize that if I make a crummy decision, I will have to deal with its consequences. I wonder if maybe the attempt by some in our culture to make consequences for poor decision-making lighter for some has led to this idea that no one is smart enough to look at a choice and go, "the path through the dark cave with monsters, or the path with the peace and the butterflies" and be able to decide the best one for them?)

You know what? A lot of life IS awful. Turn on the news any day of the week. People choosing to do awful things to other people. But why should I focus on that? Why should I go around beating my chest and saying "Woe is me, humanity is so terrible?" or refuse to ever be happy? That isn't going to bring back the person who was shot dead, it's not going to improve conditions for the Iraqi Christians fleeing from ISIS. (And yes, there are things that one can do. But going around being miserable all the time is not one of them).  I see nothing wrong with reading fun and escapist novels - and perhaps even some escapist novels can teach us something, how to be happy, how to be better people, how to laugh....something.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I hate the very idea of modern "literary" novels, or, specifically, the idea that they are somehow better than ordinary novels. If a novel that is at least several decades old is considered great by academics I'm willing to accept that it is great because it has stood the test of time and the judgement of generations of readers but no one has ever been able to explain to me why "literary" novels are better than popular novels. The only answer amounts to "Because we say so and we're smarter than you."