Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Why did this piece in the NYT on Sunday rub me the wrong way? Pamela Paul, editor of the Book Review, says we should all be reading books we hate. She calls it “hate reading.”
Maybe she’s mad because she has to read a lot of books she hates as part of her job. She gets paid to read books she hates. But the primary example she uses from her own life is reading Atlas Shrugged when she was in college. Hey, we all have to read books we hate in college. I’d never have read Pamela on my own. Or any James Fenimore Cooper novel. What Paul is advocating now is completely different: Waste your precious adult reading time on material that drives you nuts.
As many of the commenters to the piece pointed out, there are too many great books to read in a lifetime. Why would we cast some of them aside in order to read junk in genres we don’t enjoy, or political propaganda that gives us ulcers? I’ll never read a book by Ann Coulter. It’s that simple. She’s not writing for me, for one thing, and for another I wouldn’t expose myself to that kind of repellant thinking unless it was imposed on me as punishment for something I did. Something really terrible.
Paul’s theory seems to be that we need to get out of our comfort zones so we can learn how other people think, what other ideas are out there in the world. She says reading stuff you hate “helps you refine what it is you value.” Why does a particular kind of story get under your skin? Because you don’t like zombies? I need no help with that.
The piece seems like one of those intentionally provocative arguments that even the author doesn’t believe or practice. It just sounded like it’d make a cool column and would probably garner lots of comments (482 as of this moment). You could as easily argue that Catholics ought to pop into a mosque now and then to get a feel for why they they’re not Muslims — and vice versa. Or I ought to go to a NASCAR race sometime just to confirm that the South should be allowed to secede. What’s the point?
Recently I had to bail out on a book I was reading, God: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher, by Jerry L. Martin. I didn’t exactly hate it. Instead it was just that I wasn’t buying any aspect of it, so that it began to grate on me and feel like a waste of time. Now I’ve moved on to something I appreciate and am learning from, and that feels better to me than going through the motions with Jerry. That’s what it boils down to in my eyes. What am I getting from a book? Something positive (which can also be fairly trivial, like “pleasure”), or just aggravation and sadness that this bum managed to get a novel published?
Have you read a book you hated lately? Name names!