I was thinking about books this morning and — look, I don’t even know if this is going to make a full entry, so let’s just leave it at that. I was thinking about books this morning and.
And I progressed from thinking about books in the tactile sense (mmm, books, new books with crackly spines, old floppy books with soft covers, library books with strangely thick pages and a faint scent of Others) to thinking about books in the literary sense. Specifically, I thought, I am so full of shit with my degree and my writing and my thirty-second analyses, because I am the worst-read person ever born. It’s true. I am not what you might call well-read. I don’t read literature, I don’t read statements, I don’t read breathtaking prose. I read books.
I’ve never made it through anything by Ayn Rand. I think I read four randomly picked pages of Atlas Shrugged, and then I shrugged. And put the book firmly back on the shelf. I read maybe an eighth of The Fountainhead and went around with my brain feeling strangely sharp-cornered and brittle for a week. I love Shakespeare, but only when he’s silly — I really dug A Midsummer Night’s Dream and positively despised Hamlet. Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Heinlein occupy the same category in my head, but I hate Vonnegut and love Heinlein. I will read anything Stephen King scribbles in a self-indulgent haze, but Hemingway does nothing for me (besides making me praise the inventor of the shotgun).
I read Chuck Palahniuk voraciously. I would like to eat Tom Robbins’s books, they are so delightful. I read Terry Goodkind obsessively, but never Terry Pratchett. Just mentioning The Yellow Wallpaper can send me into a lather of righteous fury; I hate Gilman with an unbridled, uncontrollable passion. I like Nora Roberts, though, possibly out of spite. I am fascinated by Arthur Miller’s life, but Death of a Salesman puts me right to sleep. I love Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde but wanted to rip the (boring, reactionary) pages out of We Were The Mulvaneys. In short, I read for entertainment. I read for fun. I read for emotional payoff, sharp phrasing, and a waltz through the English language.
I don’t read to raise awareness. I don’t read to delve into the murky whirlpool of modern society. I don’t read to work myself up into a froth of indignation over misogny, body image as commodity, or the plight of blue-collar families. (I should mention here that the exception to this rule is Barbara Ehrenreich — I love her and think she does some fascinating, if a bit superficial, reportage.) I do read for humor. I do read for gorgeous imagery. I do, in the case of Nora Roberts, read to feel superior.
I read to escape, basically. I’m not strengthening my mind when I read; I’m relaxing it. Pumping cranial iron is for classes, for work, for research, for study. My own book time is mine. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but no, I did not like The Great Gatsby. I didn’t like Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies, either. I’m what you might call a literate illiterate, capable of reading but incapable of making the right choices.
What’s your secret book shame?