What Do You Read? And Why?
There's a really fascinating back and forth happening at the Millions these past few days. It started when someone asked for some book recommendations, and it's morphed into a discussion of taste as it relates to reading lists. People take a long time deciding what to read, much longer than they typically take deciding which movie to see, where to eat dinner, or whether or not to watch The Hills (to watch, definitely). Some of this is natural, since it takes a good deal longer to read a book than watch a movie, eat a meal, or to watch a TV show. But that's not the only reason. Books are a signifier for being smart, and certain books are a flag, a symbol that the reader is of a certain sect. Toting around Infinite Jest, as I saw one young woman doing during the blast furnace heat of the LA Times Festival of Books, says something very clear about what that person hopes to accomplish. It says that reading isn't mere leisure. I think this becomes ingrained in us very early on, when we are made to read certain books for school. Reading at all becomes associated with knowledge, and certain books get a stamp of approval while others don't.
But how many of us construct our reading lists solely along high-brow or low-brow divides? I don't think I do. I've read Gravity's Rainbow and Europe Central (I even liked Europe Central), and I'm a regular watcher of The Hills (Do not get me started on Justin Bobby's new look!). I would rehash my entire reading list since the new year, but as I moonlight as a book critic and often read books I wouldn't choose, I don't think that'd be very enlightening. Rather, I'll ask the question of you: when reading, do you tend to choose books you know will challenge you or do you look for a great story? Are you reading with a knowledge of literary theory or is it a more passive act? Do you read Michael Connelly and also Junot Diaz? Let me know. I'm the curious type.