Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's What You Read that Matters... Not

So Banzai Cat left this comment partly in jest and I couldn't help but ponder about it: It's not who you are, it's what you read the matters. Disregarding the former (since who we are actually does matter), I don't think it's enough that we read good books, as the "it's what you read that matters" would entail. I'm all for reading good books but at the end of the day, I don't think reading good books will lead to a utopian society.

I think what we have to bear in mind is that books are not just open to interpretation, they need to be interpreted. I'll be honest--there are some stories or even novels that I've read half-heartedly or perhaps I was quite sleepy at the time or thinking of something else that I just didn't get it (and the blame lies with me). So when I read a text that way, it won't be life changing. And then there are stories or books that I just don't understand or appreciate. A personal example would be Alice in Wonderland (do I hear the lit people out there screaming heresy?). I'll be the first person to admit I'm neither smart nor critical nor perceptive as I'd like to be. Maybe it's the limit of my mental faculties but Alice in Wonderland bored me. So you can easily imagine me in the same room with another person who's read the aforementioned book. We will get along? Not necessarily since we have different interpretations of the book. I'll even expect there are people who will read books and don't digest it. It leaves them as quickly as they move on to the next word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter. An even better reaction I think is whether the reader wants to accept the story being presented by the author since in many ways, books are propaganda (although not necessarily political ones). (I'm digressing but I think fan fiction also arises from a lack of acceptance of the story, either they want to extend it to something more meaningful to them or a straight-out rebellion of what they think should be.) But similarly, I don't even get along with people who read the same books as I do. So it doesn't even boil down to acceptance.

Then there's "bad" books, for whatever your definition of bad is. However, I think there's similarly lessons to be learned from bad books. A writer might read a bad book to see what the author did right and what they did wrong in terms of technique for example. A reader might read a bad book to reinforce a cliche or a theme they're familiar with. Or you know, it might simply be a guilty pleasure since published books must have a readership of some sort to have actually been published (even if it's just the author's family).

So in many ways, I can't judge a person by what they read and what they don't read. Humanity is complex that way. People already have trouble interpreting books. I think it's infinitely more difficult to interpret the people reading those books.

But I think we should go ahead and read. It gives us common ground with other readers. At least when I meet a stranger who's read Alice in Wonderland, a discussion can be started instead of me just shrugging and ending the conversation by admitting I haven't read it.


Anonymous said...

You wouldn't believe how many conversations I've had about McKinley's Sunshine once people discover I absolutely hated that book.

banzai cat said...

hehe I know I was joking so the commentary is appreciated. still, I do think there's something to be said about one's reading material. for example, I know a lot of people are bathroom readers-- and there's nothing wrong with that mind-- but what I do find weird is that their bathroom also serves as their library. but at least they read right?

and I recently met two people who were all praises for one particular book (one was Dune and the other Ender's Game) such that it seemed to be to the exclusion of other reading material. I don't think it was at that but it felt weird that the conversation could only revolve around those particular books.

so I suppose the jest is really a psychological point that one can discern who or what a person is on a person's reading (or lack of) habits. (naks! fancy footwork!)

P.S. naaliw si [identity-protected] on your usage of her tag. ;-)