I joke about reading and liking embarrassing books, like The Game or Battlefield Earth or Atlas Shrugged, but I don’t really think there is any book that I would actually be embarrassed to say that I liked. Because when I say that I like a book, I think it’s understood that it comes with a certain amount of distance, and that it is leavened and excused by the countless other, finer, books that I like.
But sometimes I wonder if those caveats are really true.
For most of my reading life (say, from the ages 10 to 22), I read only science fiction and fantasy books. I didn’t read any literary fiction, or even non-fiction. I didn’t even read other genres (mystery, horror, romance, etc.)
I read books that I knew I would like. During some periods of my life, I read barely any new books, instead re-reading favorite series and favorite authors. This was kind of an easy, guaranteed pleasure. I believed either consciously, or unconsciously, that the pleasures of most books were inaccessible to me.
That is still the opinion that I hold about most arts. For instance, I have only very rarely experienced any sort of pleasure from looking at a painting, or listening to instrumental music, or watching the opera. I think that these pleasures are currently inaccessible to me.
Now, those incapacities (whether they are real, or just imagined) do not particularly bother. But it did not feel good to think that there were reading-related pleasures that I was incapable of receiving, especially since I was planning on becoming a writer. How could I claim to have some special love for the written word, when a large amount of it was clearly quite inaccessible to me?
And it took a long time for me to move past that perceived incapacity. I still do not know whether it just never existed, or whether I overcome it. Nowadays, I find that there are very few kinds of books that I’m not capable of enjoying. Gosh, I can even read and enjoy poetry (sometimes…)
But that’s all part of some other story, which is really backstory to what’s been happening for the past two weeks, which is…I have only been able to read light non-fiction. And not just light non-fiction…what I’ve been reading has mostly been addiction memoirs. I read Augusten Burrough’s Dry, and Mary Karr’s Lit, and Bill Clegg’s Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man, and Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook. Oh, and I also read Diablo Cody’s Candy Girl (I am seriously considering whether to switch to stripper memoirs), as well as Sebastion Junger’s War (following a platoon during its fifteen-month tour in the hillbilly parts of Afghanistan) and James Howard Kunstler’s Geography Of Nowhere (a truly awful, thoughtless exercise in proving how awful and thoughtless America’s suburbs are).
At first it was a nice break. But it’s actually gotten kind of distressing. There are many other books on my mantel. There is the second half of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (I read the first volume more than six months ago). There are the last three books of Remembrance Of Things Past. There’s Plato’s Symposium. Now, part of the reason for this is that I got sick. But I wasn’t sick two weeks ago, when it started. And I’m not sick now, while it continues.
I still can’t read through anything with much depth. I got a third of the way through Oliver Twist (which is not exactly Proust) and found that I just couldn’t keep reading anymore (although…that might just be the book’s blatant and inexcusable anti-Semitism).
Instead, I am seriously considering reading James Frey’s Million Little Pieces. What is wrong with me? Has my true, shallow nature been revealed? It’s possible.
I do enjoy addiction (and stripper) memoirs quite a bit. I breeze right through them with little effort. And I am entertained by them.
And one of the main things I enjoy about a lot of the books that I read, and blog about, is being able to say that I read them. You can’t really get those kinds of points from saying that you read Candy Girl.
But….well, there is no but. That’s the way it is. I can enjoy most kinds of books…if I’m in the right mood. But sometimes I do not feel like reading serious literature (ugh, like when I was being forced to read it for high school English). I must come to terms with my Buddha nature.
I think that’s one of the hard things to accept about reading as both an entertainment and a means of instruction. Reading a book takes a bit of time. You’re going to read it over several days and several moods. And if you’re too rigid about what kind of stuff you need to be reading, then you’re going to lose reading time, because you’re not going to be in the right mood (for instance, during several days of my sickness, I didn’t read at all, because I could not stomach another word of Oliver Twist).
If you’re really going to read all the time, and read vast quantities, then you gotta accept that some weeks (months? Years?) are going to be addiction memoir times.
But you also gotta know when addiction memoir times are over…well, you don’t actually need to know that. They publish enough addiction memoirs that one person could read them pretty much exclusively (in addition to Frey’s, I am also considering reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s, too.)
Oh, if you want to dip your feet into the addiction memoir whilst still feeling all high-faluting and literary, reading Thomas De Quincy’s Confessions Of An English Opium Eater. It was released in like 1821, and it is not only superb, it also is not very different from most modern ones (most addiction memoirs are about how much fun drugs are).