Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trying to be an anti-snob.

I'm an indiscrimnate reader for the most part. I remember when my mom used to buy me books that just didn't sound all that good when I was little, and I'd leave it to sit on my shelf for months. But then one day, I'd run out of books to read, and I'd have no choice but to pick up one of the ignored books. I remember a few books I read that I ended up really enjoying - The Cricket in Times Sqare, Julie of the Wolves, The Wednesday Witch - so I guess I should be glad that I'll give most books a chance.

For the most part, when reading (and in life), I try hard to be open-minded and diplomatic about things. I'll force myself to plug through a book because I feel like I've made a commitment, and I'll try to find something good about it when I'm done, even if I didn't love it. There are, of course, exceptions. Poorly written genre novels, for instance, just enrage me. And even then, I'll skim through the text to get a general idea of the plot and what happens, just because I want to know. Four Blondes killed forever, my desire to ever read chicklit, and that is my number one biggest reading bias. But beyond that, I'll give everything fiction a chance.

I try, my hardest, not to be a literary snob. Few of my friends share my love of reading all things fiction the way I do. Few of my friends share my obsessive desire to delve into literature from an anything-goes approach: be it pointing out craft elements, symbolism, philosophy, or simple plot. Most people I know read the way the general public reads, perhaps the way reading should be - for entertainment purposes. So when a friend of mine tells me she didn't like Ishiguro's Remains of the Day so much, and I'm dying to point out the genius craft element of how he writes from his character's point of view so flawlessly, I shut my mouth. Because I'm afraid that I'll come off sounding horribly academic to the point of snobbery (and the thing is, I don't think I'm academic at all, English professors would laugh at my elementary grasp of good literature).

I really would like to be the kind of literary reader who not only loves the high-brow, but can enjoy good commercial and genre fiction too (my tolerance, of course, ends with books that are so badly written, I cannot understand how it was published in the first place, except that then I realize that it has nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with making money for publishing houses - think all the Da Vinci Code type spinoffs a few years ago). As anybody, I have my biases and things I can't help but scoff at here and there, but I give most things a chance. Because I love to read. And my love is universal, as long as there's something redeeming about it.

I think it's important to be able to learn to enjoy things for the merit that they do hold. This includes reading, and this is why today's NYTimes Paper Cuts blog excerpt of Harold Bloom's blasting of Harry Potter in 2000 irks me, just a little bit.

Maybe Rowling is cliche (and, I noticed today, she's guilty of using too many adverbs), and maybe her writing isn't the most lyrical or symbolic or poetic or mature writing. But why should it be? It was originally for children. Her writing is flawed sometimes, but I don't think it's bad to the point of distraction, and the kind of world she paints with her cliches and overuse of adverbs is magical and captivating. Despite his insistence that its not high-brow snobbery that causes his dislike, I can't help but think that it is.

"Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?" he says. What about the fact that it enriches the imagination? I think it's really great for kids to be able to read something that's so fantastical, this alternate world that they can dream about. And let's face it, even better for us boring adults who forgot how fun magic can be. I mean really. I read HP and still think it'd be super cool to play Quidditch or have friendly ghosts floating around and be in classes called Charms and Care of Magical Creatures. It's not going to win any Pulitzer, and none of my teachers will be using the book's passages as an example of lyricism, but I think there's something to the book. And beyond the creativity and fantasticalness of it. I think at the core of the book, there is an honesty. Forces of good and evil we can understand. Flawed heroes who ultimately grow up and come out on top. Mentors who are forever wise in their decisions to trust and love and believe in the redemption of good people who make mistakes.

I think Bloom is dead wrong about his quibble, and I just wonder if he used his imagination at all when reading Rowling's books.

[All I've been doing is writing about HP these days. I know. I'm sorry. It will be better once this month is over.]

2 drops:

moonrat said...

harry potter's an awesome story. that people across the spectrum of readerships enjoy equally.

i guess if she had an educational agenda, she could throw in more diverse vocabulary, but honestly, i don't think she does have an educational agenda--i think she's writing a) to make a book, like the rest of us, and b) to make some money, like most of us.

she's really talented at the story, and it's not her FAULT (per se--there was no malicious intent, i'm sure) that she's become one of the chief motivating factors as far as kids' reading goes. she took on her project to reach AN audiencce--she never signed on with any obligation to enrich or better the world.

i am not an apologist here. harry potter is what it is--good entertainment.

that said, on many levels i think the books are educational. she takes actual issues and really cleverly couches them--sometimes i don't even realize how much she makes me think about my own life.

i feel like offering concrete examples here would make me look silly, but you have to agree there is some serious treatment of some ideas that are anything but fantasy. and it's good for kids to be forced to think about more difficult things like that in a venue they see as pure entertainment.

angelle said...

i agree with you completely on all of your points. harry potter is MEANT to be entertainment. but beyond that, i agree wholeheartedly that it tackles some serious issues... family, death, trust, friendship, forgiveness, to name a few. in an obviously much less trite manner than i just listed.

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