Thursday, February 12, 2009

"It doesn't matter"

Two years ago Nick Hornby wrote an article expressing frustration with British literary culture and calling for us to embrace the pure joy of reading. He framed his frustration with a quotation.
'If reading is a workout for the mind, then Britain must be buzzing with intellectual energy,' said one sarcastic newspaper columnist: 'Train stations have shops packed with enough words to keep even the most muscular brain engaged for weeks.

'Indeed, the carriages are full of people exercising their intellects the full length of their journeys. Yet somehow, the fact that millions daily devour thousands of words from Hello!, The Sun, The Da Vinci Code, Nuts and so on does not inspire the hope that the average cerebrum is in excellent health. It's not just that you read, it's what you read that counts.'

This sort of thing - and it's a regrettably common sneer in our broadsheet newspapers - must drive school librarians, publishers and literacy campaigners nuts.
Against this apparent trend, Hornby is keen to encourage us to read what we want to read and not to care if we're told by book snobs that it is deleterious to our intellectual health.
I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you're reading a book that's killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren't enjoying a television programme.

Your failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn't mean you're dim - you may find that Graham Greene is more to your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch, or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever. It doesn't matter."
Today, A Common Reader confirms Hornby's judgment by reporting how one reader at least never a let a book kill him. His joy was unconfined.


  1. Someone just placed on my desk 'Dauer hat was vergeht' ('What Falls Away') by Mia Farrow. "You'll never watch a Woody Allen film when you've read that," I was told.
    At the moment I'm reading Thomas Bernhard's "Der Weltverbesserer".
    I reckon to finish about half the books I start. When I reach page 50 I decide if it's worth ploughing on. On page 100 I review my position. If you get me past page 100 you've got me until the end.

  2. If you watch "Scoop" you'll never want to watch a Woody Allen film again. Well, except "Love & Death".



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