In Which Sam Rants About the Reading Habits of the Public

Song of the moment: Come On Get Higher Matt Nathanson

Because I have absolutely no clue how this blog has, as of late, become so focused on sex (though, let’s face it- it’s a fun topic, there’s lots of fodder, and I’m pretty much constantly horny and thinking about it), I’ve decided to attempt a post in another vein today.

When I tried to think of a suitable topic, though, the first thing that popped into my head was something that irked me when I was shopping today. So, in lieu of another sex-themed post, you get one of my angry rants.

Congratulations.

As I’ve mentioned many a time (and as any of you who actually know me are aware), I read more than most people I know. In fact, taking college coursework out of the equation (because most people have to read for that), I read more than anyone I know. I devour books at a pace that’s, at times, nearly frightening. My tastes range across the board, from poetry to prose to plays, from history and science to autobiography and pop fiction. I’ve read classics. I’ve read modern works. I’ve painfully slogged my way through the Harry Potter series.

I’m not going to claim any kind of real superiority here- I don’t want to sound like a pretentious ass. But the fact remains that, with such an extensive base of knowledge (on top of a love of the English language [weird, no?] and a strong desire to spend the rest of my life holed up in a mountain retreat, writing), I like to think I have some goddamn idea of what makes a piece literature and what makes it trash.

So, armed/burdened with my constant companion (i.e. my discerning taste), I often find myself wandering into nightmarish realms and deadly situations. Namely, the “bestsellers” sections in any bookstore (or, even worse, at Wal-Mart and Albertsons). Fucking hell.

Let’s clear one thing up right now: I hold nothing but disdain for humanity as a whole. Therefore, it is no great leap to assume (rightly) that I think next-to-nothing of the majority’s taste in reading material. Frankly, the drivel they choose to fill their brains with is not my concern, so long as they keep their fucking mouths shut and don’t attempt to influence my life in any manner (such as running for public office or speaking to me). If they want to starve their minds and fill them with fluff words and American Idol trivia, by all means, fucking do it.

Unfortunately, it’s this vicious fucking cycle, with enough idiots picking these books up to eventually earn them the label of “bestseller,” causing more idiots to buy these fucking books (because, oh-golly-gee, everyone else is buying this, it must be good). And so these two-bit hack authors make enough money that the publishing companies demand another title, so they churn out some half-recycled, half-vomited-up piece of swill and their adoring public just eats that shit up.

Let’s take Dan Brown as an example, because I hate that fucker (we aren’t touching Stephanie Meyer because everyone knows she’s the fucking devil’s puppet, and I just don’t have the energy to spend the equivalent of a 300-page novel explicitly detailing her failings and how I would kill her, given the opportunity). Also, he springs to mind because my father, who I adore and even respect (80% of the time), just purchased The Lost Symbol, Brown’s latest pseudo-historical thriller starring the ever popular Robert Langdon.

Okay, I’ll admit it- I started his ass reading Brown’s stuff. When I was a freshman in high school, my batshit crazy art teacher lent me The DaVinci Code to read. She had loved it and thought I would, too. Take into account that I was living in the fiery pits of hell (also known as a boring, hick town in Wyoming with absolutely nothing to do and the smallest library known to man). So yes, I took the book. And read it. And, for what it was (crap), it was moderately entertaining (emphasis on moderately). Was it life-changing literature? Of course not. But I found it a decent enough diversion, so I handed it off to my father (who reads almost as much as I do… though we read very different things).

He loved that damn book. And all of Brown’s other books. Just considered him the greatest author to walk this earth since Shakespeare. I, on the other hand, was attempting to forget I’d ever read that travesty just as the whole goddamn world seemed to get a hard-on for this novel. Hell, the Catholic church popped a boner when they got to talk trash against it (I think they get bored… their only real fodder these days are the gays and abortions, and they’ve beaten those to death) and attempt to boycott the book… and the movie. Oh, sweaty, toadlike Tom Hanks- how the mighty have fallen.

Anyway, to get back on track, my dad loves Dan Brown. And when I saw him last week, he eagerly thrust The Lost Symbol under my nose and asked if I’ve read it. I gave him what I like to think of as my most disdainful eyebrow quirk (it’s really not terribly effective- my eyebrow dexterity is low) and said no, then returned to reading The Master and Margarita. He eventually snatched the book out of my hands, read the back, then starting thumbing through the pages.

Him: “It doesn’t look Russian.”

Me: “It’s a translation, Dad. I can’t actually read Russian.”

Him: “Is it a good translation?”

Me: “How should I know? I can’t read Russian.”

Him: “Well, what are you wasting your time with this for, then? Read a book that was originally written in English.”

He then tosses that damn Dan Brown book on my lap, along with the Bulgakov text. I’m speechless. How can this man, my father, a man I thought had a goddamn brain, dare to compare one of the greatest Russian novels ever written (as an aside, I fucking mean that- I adore this book) with something penned by Dan Brown?

He then proceeds to go through the books I have recently pulled out of my backpack and am attempting to squeeze into my suitcase. Crime and Punishment. Two books by Richard Feynman. Brockmeier’s The Truth About Celia and The View From the Seventh Layer. Indecision. Classic texts. Witty autobiographies steeped in physics and history. Modern prose-poetry and clever insights into the mindsets of apathetic twenty-somethings. And all he can say is:

“What the hell are you reading these days? Where’s the good stuff?”

Okay, now I’m pissed. I snatch the books from him, delivering a blistering speech on quality of literature versus mass appeal and shoving my treasured novels into the nooks and crannies of my luggage. Thankfully, my father is extraordinarily good-natured and used to my hot-headed outbursts. He just laughed and shook his head and let me be.

I felt like a right twat for going off on my own dad like that, but what he was saying was like a punch in the gut. Or the cunt. Somewhere painful that leads to me being doubled over in agony, silently weeping and hoping for it to end. Because what he said is echoed in the minds of people the world over. The “good books” are the romance novels and crap thrillers that line those “bestseller” shelves like tiny soldiers. Tiny, deadly, demon soldiers going to battle against literature and the power of the written word.

It’s beyond sad to me that some of the greatest authors of this generation are not getting the acclaim they so rightly deserve. Their works are revolutionary, insightful, beautiful, poetic, witty, dangerous, and transformative. These are the books you read that linger with you long after you’ve put them down. The books that change how you view the world. The books that shape who you are as a person. Literature.

Instead, we are rewarding “authors” who crank out trash-novels with no redeeming value to humanity, creating a cesspool of faux-literature that undermines everything real literature stands for. Nobody wants to read the classics anymore (except for the dusty ol’ academics and idealistic English majors… and, sometimes, hipsters). Nobody wants to investigate the lesser-known texts. Nobody wants a book to change their lives. That’s not why they read. They want the text equivalent of a reality television series- pointless, vapid filth (yes, television and cinema have suffered the same destruction of their artistic value as literature has).

It makes me so mad I want to scream. Irrational? You might say so. I think my reaction is perfectly justified.

As per usual, everything I just spent a half-hour ranting and whining about can be summed up much more eloquently by someone else. In this case, it’s a quote from The Economist:

A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.

I like that they bitched about Dan Brown as well. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

As a complete aside, I feel the need to share my little bit of happiness from today. I went pants shopping (I needed new jeans like nobody’s business), and I was pleased to discover that I’ve dropped a size. Go me.

Bonus link of the day (because we haven’t done this in far too long): If you’ve seen Zombie Strippers, this sounds frighteningly familiar. Maybe one day, an undead Jenna Jameson really will get to shoot billiard balls out of her vagina as she battles another undead stripper. We can dream, right?

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