The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘preferences’

On the Pleasures of Not Reading

August 31, 2015 | by

An illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514).

What a golden age this is for trolls. Never has it been easier, with the proper combination of disdain, ignorance, and calculated condescension, to work hundreds of thousands of strangers into an indignant lather. If you don’t mind the occasional death threat, the polemic has never been a more attractive mode. It’s pungent.

I have to believe the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones feels the same way—his article today, “Get real. Terry Pratchett is not a literary genius,” is too arrant a piece of provocation to be unintentional. Its thrust is that the late Pratchett, whose final Discworld novel has just been published, is part of a “middlebrow cult of the popular” distracting readers from more ambitious, capital-L Literary fare. That’s a contentious argument in and of itself—but Jones’s true troll masterstroke lay in his admission that he’s read hardly a sentence of Pratchett’s work. The author “is so low on my list of books to read before I die,” Jones writes,

that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him. I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary … life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers. I am not saying this as a complacent book snob who claims to have read everything. On the contrary, I am crushed by how many books I have not read.

Some of that feels deliberately bush-league—that “million years” bit gives too much of the game away; clearly this is a piece of rhetoric designed not to be reasoned with but balked at—but beneath the hauteur is a useful point, one that much of literary culture, in its glad-handing, is at pains to admit. There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself. Read More »

Show, Don’t Tell

April 11, 2014 | by


Pio Ricci, Das bewunderte Geschenk (The Admired Gift), 1919, oil on canvas.

Recently someone gave me a book. It was a book, she said, that she knew I would love. She had read it and thought of me at once. It was a supremely kind gift. My heart sank.

There are few things more oppressive than the things you are supposed to love—books, movies, records, people—things that somehow match the shorthand you show the world and mirror back just how crudely you have caricatured yourself. When someone says I will like something, I tend to assume the something in question will be precious, tedious, and often aggressively eccentric. Sometimes I do like these things, which is the worst outcome of all.

In the case of this particular book, I already knew. This is an author who people have assumed I have loved since I learned to read. Her novels, generally set on the Upper West Side or in Greenwich Village, are populated with the youngish, Jewish bourgeoisie of the Cuisinart generation: good educations, artistic leanings, and improbable names. Sometimes they have affairs with one another; often they are surrounded by antique china. This author has a cult following. Read More »