The Wrong Sort of Books

With a little help from the kind folks that comment here I’m going to try and outline my thoughts on the wrong sort of books. Don’t think there are wrong sorts of books? Wonder how a grown man that reads Superman books can claim a literary high ground? Read on.

Previously, discussing my reading anxiety over reading the wrong sort of books, I outlined my ideas on the right sort of books.

Each one tells us a little bit more about how to be a good human and, surprisingly, isn’t afraid to make you laugh at some point in the process (although, on reflection, this is realized to be a necessary part of some process). “Important” books, might be a good standard label, or rule of thumb. The ones that feel like they mean something.

Never one to be too afraid of abhorrent subjectiveness (only slightly worried) a feeling of meaning something works very well for me. But what about the wrong sort of books?

Brad wonders: Is a book that strives purely for entertainment the wrong sort? And what about purported classics like The Great Gatsby? “The characters are all despicable, murder is covered up, and the innocent allowed to be slandered and slain. Yuck. ” And Clemens offers up his thoughts:

The only books not worth reading are the ones you regret every second you spent with it in your hands. And there are very few of those if you think about it

Good advice and somewhat close, I think, to my rule of thumb. But what kind of books are you going to regret reading? Beware, metaphysics ahead.

The wrong sort of book does nothing to prepare you for remembering your death. It does nothing to awaken you to human vanity. Oh, the wrong sort of book may attempt to do this but usually it’s dreadfully dull. The right sort of book does this by making you laugh at least once, laughter being a sort of key, for me at least, that cheerfully unlocks the dreadful cabinet we sit ourselves in. Laughter is important when talking about vanity. So sorry, Camus, you’ve written the wrong sort of book. Nice try, don’t be a stranger.

The wrong sort of book leads you on. It promises something and delivers hours gone, dissatisfaction, emptiness and overall bleaughy feelings. More good advice from a friend of S.O.S.:

… if she’s reading a book and she isn’t completely drawn in by a certain place (I forget whether it was within the first few chapters or first few pages), she puts the book down and moves on. She’s realized she has a finite amount of time and wants to read the books that draw her in, whether “classics” or contemporary.

I haven’t really accomplished anything here, have I? This is more about recognizing the right book for you. Parting thoughts: embrace subjectivity when it comes to reading and trust your reading conscience.

3 responses to “The Wrong Sort of Books”

  1. I misunderstood! I thought ‘the wrong sort of book’ had to do with injury to the spirit. Instead I find that, here, the wrong sort of book is a waste of time.

    Laughter as a judge of value must be examined. A friend pointed out to me a few years ago, that there is no *humor* without pain. After some thought, I chose to seek joy, and not to value humor (pain) very much at all. I still tell jokes, and look at cartoons. But I also consider the pain and harm that humor does. Joy is the emotional response to beauty, the basic part of enjoyment when nothing is harmed or damaged. I enjoy watching a sunset, a child’s smile, seeing a loved one. I enjoy working metal and wood, reading a good book.

    So I cannot think simply laughing would determine whether a book is the wrong sort. Also, finding a book to be tedious means that I am not interested in a book – at that time. Perhaps I am tired, perhaps the material has emotional or other connotations that distract me. Perhaps I need preparation, from study of a language to mastery of related material such as gardening or mathematics. Perhaps need to grow my world view, or perhaps reading another book or three, or seeing a particular event or movie, or having a particular conversation or experience will prepare me to enjoy a particular book, fiction or not. I have several books I was not interested in reading when I got to them, only to find they seemed more attractive at a later date, and turned out to be quite good reads.

    I guess I interpreted the topic of ‘wrong sorts of books’ in the sense of good and evil. I can easily envision a quite harmful book being a good read – entertaining, humorous, but causing harmful personal changes in some readers. Hint: Go see the ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ at the theater. Then notice your speedometer and driving reflexes for the first several blocks as you leave the theater. If ‘we are what we eat’, we are also the friends we keep, the movies and events we see, and what we read.

  2. Actually, Brad, your placing “the wrong sort” in the context of good-evil was well considered. I almost perma-drafted this post because I’d never considered it.

    But you’re not going to get me on violent movies! 🙂

  3. And I’ll be coming back to this topic in the future I’m sure — so stick around.

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