There are many movements that seek to impose a certain type of book on people: people should make an effort to read books by ethnic minorities, people should commit to read only books by women for a year, people should only read books with diverse casts. I have the same doubts about reducing books down to a single broad trait of the author as I do about all positive discrimination, but I am more concerned with the hidden axiom beneath them all: certain books have no value.
Yesterday’s Goodread’s quote is from Maria Semple (ironically one of the writers of Beverly Hills 90210, which might be described as fluffy summery in feel):
I never understood the concept of a fluffy summer read. For me, summer reading means beaches, long train rides and layovers in foreign airports. All of which call for escaping into really long books.
– Maria Semple
Those even tangentially familiar with me will probably be aware that I read a lot of books: last year I read over 150, and I have beaten that already. And for exactly the reason Semple cites: filling the spaces betwixt and between other things as well as deliberate reading.
However, I fully understand why people would want a fluffy summer read: it provides the same experience to them as Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen or Huysmans’ La Bas provides me.</p.
My reading-for-comprehension speed is fast, fast enough that I can finish a standard novel in an evening. When my job involved travelling to court hearings across the United Kingdom, I used to carry at least one unstarted novel in addition to the one I was reading to make sure I would have enough to read if my train was delayed. Really long books are the only ones that fill the spaces Semple references.
In addition, my memory for plot and character (my book buffer as it were) is both capacious and fast to access. I have no difficulty reading during a short commercial break, watching a segment of a program, and picking the book up at the start of the next break without any loss of immersion in either story. The interstitial spaces suitable for me to read are almost limitless.
But, for all the myriad readers who do not have my extreme facility with reading; who take a week – or a month – to read a novel; who need to focus to keep the narrative straight; shorter, less-dense books are more suitable to their experience.
Extending Semple’s premise, one might as well say one doesn’t understand the concept of children’s books: after all (as any parent will attest) children’s books are brief and shallow, gone in minutes.
So, do fluffy summer reads do anything for me? Not really. Does that mean people shouldn’t read them? Of course not.
Reading is a great way to see another perspective on life, any new perspective – no matter how similar to that we already hold – gives us (for the individualists) more opportunities to leverage situations and (for the social) a greater insight into how our experience is not the only viable one.
Are there any books you feel have no value? Are there any books that everyone needs to read?