Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How To Read Books Like An Idiot

I was wandering around the bookstore the other day looking for something to read. I had just finished a book by Jay McInerney about September 11 and middle-aged love (The Good Life, it turns out, though I couldn't for the life of me remember the name.

I chose that one because I missed seeing the topic on the cover, and because I had just finished another book by him about models that I really liked (Model Behavior. I couldn't remember that one either. What's happening to me?). I didn't really enjoy The Good Life very much, though I'm not really sure why. The love part didn't really speak to me.

In the bookstore I saw something called "How to Read Literature Like a Professor." I thought, Wow. Wow. Seldom have I ever seen a how-to book for something I have less interest in doing. I don't want to learn to fly-fish; I don't want to day-trade; and I don't care to make high end Japanese food in my kitchen from scratch. But, you know, I can imagine wanting to do those things.

I can't really imaging preferring to read literature like a professor. Literature professors have their thing they're doing, about using literature to understand people, and life, and the world, and so on, but it seems to me that even if using literature this way is profitable and interesting, it's not really fun or pleasant.

Or, let me rephrase that: it's not fun or pleasant for me. Dorky as it may be, I just want to freakin' read and enjoy books. In the old, regular way.

It's getting harder and harder to do. Books are now part of the whole book-club industrial complex, and it's like the publishers are dying to make us all into little literary analyzers. Do. Not. Want.

It's annoying enough when the blurb engages in literary comparisons and "thought provoking" questions. It's worse, of course, when there are actual book-club questions at the end of a book.

This isn't quite the same but the very very worst trend in fiction publishing is acknowledgements at the end of the book. Can we please, please, please stop that? You're there at the end of the book, your mind is all engaged by this fictional world, in a kind of warm bath, when BAM-- the cold water of acknowledgements hits. "The author would like to thank the Zenith foundation . . . for . . . and also his girlfriend . . . and parents. . . and maybe his cat for being cute."

I'm not denying anyone's need to give thanks. The place for this is obviously at the front of the book, where all normal books have the acknowledgements. Before you start reading, who cares? It's at the end that it sucks. It really ruins the whole post-coital reading feeling for me. "OK! All done? We're done! Time to get back to real life! Hop to it sweetie!"

Please. No. Give me a few more minutes under the covers, dude. I'll get up eventually.


Daniel said...

Oh, no!! I've never seen acknowledgements at the end of a book, nor do I want to. I'm wondering, though, if it might be sort of fun to read like a professor if the professor is interested in form and syntax and putting sentences together and such, rather than reading literature as a sociologist.

Noko Marie said...

Hi Daniel, I know what you mean and I am overstating my case. But I think there is a lot to be said for getting lost in a book -- at least in addition to paying attention to other stuff like you say. And so few people seem to get lost in novels anymore. It makes me sad.

The acknowledgments are killing me! So awful!

Anonymous said...

yes. I agree completely -- but to me they just seem smug. I've not really known why it seems more smug to stick them at the end than at the beginning, but your comments begin to reveal an answer. Here you are, innocent reader, enjoying the constructed world as it should be enjoyed, and the author breaks in "me! me! it was all about me all along!" Maybe?