Reading Upward

by Rachel Baker on August 18, 2014

When I first started Old Musty Books, I believed there was a step-ladder of fiction that brought one to the ultimate accomplishment in reading (at the time, I was sure it was Ulysses). I don’t believe this anymore and Ulysses is still sitting at the bottom of a box full of books I will probably never read. Sad as it may be, I don’t believe that one book leads to another.

I also don’t believe one form of fiction is better than any other…I just believe I prefer some to others and don’t want to waste my precious living reading genres I don’t enjoy. I do wish sometimes that people who only read ONE genre would venture out into other genres, particularly if they spend all their reading time with the same formula book with only a different location and different names.

I also no longer care if people read traditional books. I think with so many words at our fingertips with our desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, reading devices, to say someone doesn’t read or doesn’t read enough is obnoxious. People read – everyone reads; and what they read is of no concern really to anyone else. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever…even the news is reading. And with the ability to read anywhere more and more people (adults AND kids) are reading in ways and places and things they’d never have considered a generation ago.

So, go forth and read whatever the hell you want, and don’t worry about the quality of reader you are. Frankly, I’d rather have a society that understands and is willing to discuss all the underlying shit going on in Fergusen right now, than a whole society that has read Ulysses and Shakespeare and Lord Byron and Jane Austin, and anyone else on the ‘things you must read to be a well-rounded intellect’ lists.

“Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.”

How many times have we heard this opinion expressed? On this occasion the speaker was a literary critic on Canadian radio with whom I was discussing my recent blog post “Reading: The Struggle.” Needless to say the sentiment comes along with the regret that people are reading less and less these days and the notion of a hierarchy of writing with the likes of Joyce and Nabokov at the top and Fifty Shades of Grey at the bottom. Between the two it is assumed that there is a kind of neo-Platonic stairway, such that from the bottom one can pass by stages to the top, a sort of optimistic inversion of the lament that soft porn will lead you to hard and anyone smoking marijuana is irredeemably destined to descend through coke and crack to heroin. The user, that is, is always drawn to a more intense form of the same species of experience.

Of course, while the fear that one will descend from soft to hard drugs tends to be treated as a near certainty, the hope that one might ascend from Hermione Granger to Clarissa Dalloway is usually expressed as a tentative wish.

Reading Upward

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