Monday, February 1, 2010

In Praise of Reading for Joy, not Education/Edification/Elaboration/Exasperation

In the past several days, I've come across many recommendations that we spend more time reading for joy, less time reading for the other reasons that we do. I was reading back through the Happiness Project blog and came across this post with the recommendation that we read only what we enjoy.

Yesterday, I picked up a book I was fairly sure I would enjoy, Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. The Dirt. It's the follow up to The Polysyllabic Spree, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I didn't even know there was a follow up until I read about someone else's reading of it on a blog that I can no longer locate. It's a collection of his columns where he talks about the books he's reading. I know that it sounds massively dull, but Hornby injects such wit into his writing that it's fun. Even when he's writing about books I've never heard of, he makes it interesting. He doesn't try to pass himself off as a trained literary intellectual; on the contrary, as this quote shows: "When you're as ill-read as I am, routinely ignoring the literature of the entire non-English speaking world seems like a minor infraction" (page 27).

The book has a preface that's a manifesto for reading for the joy of it. Hornby says, "If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity--and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured--then we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits. I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren't enjoying a TV program" (page 15).

He says this bit, which made me laugh, ". . . here's something else no one will ever tell you: if you don't read the classics, or the novel that won this year's Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do" (page 17, emphasis Hornby's). As you read that sentence, did you feel a little tingle of shock? What, we should read just because we're enjoying it?

Indeed. Hornby pleads, "Read anything, as long as you can't wait to pick it up again."

I can't tell you how many piles of books I have that I can--and do--wait to pick up again. What a great reading goal, to read only the things which compel me to read above other activities.

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