dirac

Reading out of duty

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I thought I would ask BTers what they think of this.

All I mean is that once you've had a reasonable grounding in sufficient "proper" literature to form your taste, you should never again read a book out of duty. Far too many of the (depressingly few) novel-readers I know do, though. They feel compelled to read the must-read new literary prizewinner; the must-read new, vibrant-insight-into-remote-foreign-culture novel. They have this idea in their heads, instilled from having to revere the classics at school, that literature is a lofty thing, that the best writing is fine writing or stuff they don't quite understand or feels slightly hard work.

It should be noted we aren't talking about students, who are doing a lot of 'duty reading' and rightly so, but those of us who have hung around long enough to have fully formed tastes. Do you still do any reading out of a sense of obligation these days?

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Interesting topic (and interesting quote, dirac). No, although I don't read nearly as much fiction as I did between 4 and 30. I read much more nonficiton, nearly all dance-related. But when I do read, I devour, and it's pure pleasure.

My students, now, if you mention a book to them the first question is, "Is there a movie out on that one?"

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Yes, this is an interesting article, and I'm looking forward to hearing responses to it.

I especially apppreciate the central role he gives to John Updike's reputation. As one who did read the early New Yorker stories and one or two Rabbit novels in my youth, but nothing after that, I felt quite relieved to be told this was okay. :sweatingbullets::thumbsup:

And I particularly related to this, even though I'm a Tolstoy/Proust fan:

And their shining example of the novel that isn't flawed is what exactly? All novels are flawed, that's the whole point. Dickens goes on a bit as – my, and how! – does George Eliot; War and Peace ends with 100 pages of rambling, esoteric spiritual drivel; Proust badly needs pruning; Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer aren't great prose stylists.

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I appreciate the author's point that no one can read everything that's highly regarded, and that a close reading of canonical books qualifies one to comment on " the key literary issues of our time." Critical thinking will always yield insights. But when he writes that in regards to "Ulysses" that

It's an amazing book (I've read it twice, but only so I could boast that I'd read it twice) but there's nothing in there that you can't crib just as well from the brilliant essay Nabokov once wrote, summarising the plot and pointing up the clever bits.

I want to reply (lie) that Balanchine's "Agon" is an amazing ballet (I've seen it twice, but only so I could boast that I'd seen it twice) but there's nothing in there that you can't crib just as well from You Tube clips and the brilliant essay Denby once wrote, summarising the antecedents and pointing up the clever updating. Now that my taste has been formed by a "reasonable" number of viewings of Balanchine classics, I feel qualified to pass judgment on his heirs, and even though I've never seen "Concerto Barocco," I don't feel I'm missing anything.

I mean, that's absurd. Summaries and commentaries can't substitute for the experiencing a work of art first hand.

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Great example, kfw, and a great rejoinder. :sweatingbullets:

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I don't read as many books as I should (so I guess I'm by definition not a duty-reader), but I occasionally feel an obligation to slip a novel-for-novel's sake in between the non-fictions. It generally does me good. :sweatingbullets:

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"What this article tells me first and foremost is that I should never read any novel from James Delingpole. Didn't manage to capture my attention for a 1-page article, and started to sound like the gripes of an also-ran at about line two.

Herbert

on January 31, 2009

at 10:20 AM

Report this comment"

That was down the comments thread of the article. Totally agree with 'Herbert', worst thing I've read since Toni Bentley's latest, about whom I agree with every word leonid wrote. Writers that bad need an immediate polemic, since if they brought up an interesting idea, they brought it up so vapidly I won't address it under their auspices. I guess I did read both Dellingpole and Bentley's articles 'out of duty', I dont know. And it wasn't worth it. Might as well have been something Joan Rivers brought up.

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I read the entire article out of a sense of duty although I could have stopped at the quoted sentence since Delingpole dismissed as "treats" two works of art that I can't imagine not being part of my life. His "I'm saving them up for when I'm older" is saying that he will never watch, read or listen to any of the items on his oddly unbalanced list: all of Beckett but only late Pinter; Nigerian poetry and Kabuki theatre, named perhaps to give his dismissals a cross cultural slant; mime, the most convenient of all whipping boys; the Ring Cycle and "In search of lost time" both of them too long, too foreign and too high culture although Proust gets a flippant "of course" since it almost goes without saying that every educated person whose first language is English knows of and is amused by the idea of reading it.

His dismissal of ballet I wouldn't touch with a ten foot (deling)pole.

To answer the original question I feel a sense of obligation to have read something although that wasn't the case in the past. It seems I read more in my late teens and early twenties than in all the rest of time (which is a lot) since then. I was just discovering authors and would check out shelves full of Hawthorne, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Hardy, Stendhal etc., plus a bunch of contemporary Americans from the Chicago Public Library and devour them. An exciting time. It was later that thoughts of "I really should read some Dickens (or Hemingway or Emerson)" came up.

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Ed Waffle writes:

It seems I read more in my late teens and early twenties than in all the rest of time (which is a lot) since then. I was just discovering authors and would check out shelves full of Hawthorne, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Hardy, Stendhal etc., plus a bunch of contemporary Americans from the Chicago Public Library and devour them. An exciting time.

There is a thrill about discovering writers and writing when you're young that it's hard to capture later on. Not that you still don't love to read or find a new work exciting, but it's not the same.

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There is a thrill about discovering writers and writing when you're young that it's hard to capture later on. Not that you still don't love to read or find a new work exciting, but it's not the same.
I agree ... and remember those experiences quite vivdly. The joy of getting older is "re-visiting" such works. For me, at least.

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There is a thrill about discovering writers and writing when you're young that it's hard to capture later on. Not that you still don't love to read or find a new work exciting, but it's not the same.
I agree ... and remember those experiences quite vivdly. The joy of getting older is "re-visiting" such works.

And the joy of getting really old is discovering the works for the first time as it were, since you don't remember reading them in the first place. Or so I'm told. :huh: Gosh, I can't wait. :huh:

My wife and I are currently reading (my 2nd rereading) The Brothers Karamazov, but when I read fiction for pleasure I mostly read classics that are new to me. I don't feel any obligation to read them; I only wish I had time to read more of them.

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There is a thrill about discovering writers and writing when you're young that it's hard to capture later on. Not that you still don't love to read or find a new work exciting, but it's not the same.
I agree ... and remember those experiences quite vivdly. The joy of getting older is "re-visiting" such works. For me, at least.

I have found I really enjoy re-visiting books from the past. I just picked up a huge volume with seven of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels. Currently re-reading "Kidnapped" and I can understand why I was so caught up in the trials and triumphs of David Balfour and the "notorious Highland Jacobites" when I was eleven or twelve years old.

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I have found I really enjoy re-visiting books from the past. I just picked up a huge volume with seven of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels. Currently re-reading "Kidnapped" and I can understand why I was so caught up in the trials and triumphs of David Balfour and the "notorious Highland Jacobites" when I was eleven or twelve years old.

Sometimes I'm afraid to go back. I went back to "Little Women" and was sorry I did.

Are there contemporary books that anyone has read out of duty? A best seller or widely praised book that everyone seems to be talking about?

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I read contemporary books out of duty all the time because I belong to a book club where the members each take turns deciding which book to read each month. So, in the past decade, I've had to read books by Jody Picoult, Anne Perry, Anita Shreve, Isabelle Allende, Maeve Binchy, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Tyler. I find most of them too trendy for my taste, but I read them as a loyal member of the book club.

But I was also introduced to some contemporary authors whom I now love: Carol Shields, Elizabeth McCracken (her short stories), and Jamie O'Neill (the lone male among our authors, he wrote "At Swim, Two Boys"), among others.

My own choices for book group tend to be classics, particularly the Russian authors and Jane Austen. I've also chosen books by Willa Cather and Rumer Godden for our group to read. In the book group through the years, I know that certain members won't read any book I suggest except for the first few cursory pages, and I often do the same with one member's choices. :( We're all OK with that, however; although we start off sticking to the book, our conversations always manage to veer off about halfway through our session into topics that require no reading of the book.

I'm glad to have had the exposure to these novelists despite my being a rather persnickety reader. It took me years to leave the classics domain and explore contemporary works.

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Are there contemporary books that anyone has read out of duty? A best seller or widely praised book that everyone seems to be talking about?

Well, I've *begun* quite a few books out of a sense of duty, but I almost always finish them. Many past experiences have taught me that if a book has become well established as a classic, sticking with it usually pays off. New books with a lot of buzz are another story. I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!

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I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!
:( You reminded me that this is on my Started but not Finished shelf.

It's one of those books that I enjoy reading out of chapter order. Skimming though my pencil underlings, I find that I seem to have begun with composers and movements that I actually know something about. My book mark has gathered dust at "Messiaen, Ligeti, and the Avant-Garde of the Sixties," which probably says more about me than it does about Ross.

Gathering dust on my New from Amazon shelf is the Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote (all 940 pages). I've never been able to finish this classic. I can't even enjoy the Don Q ballet plot, possibly because it brings up memories of my failures with the original.

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Ach, Don Quixote! That's one I could never wade through either. When I first met my husband, he was a student at St. John's College, and Don Q. was required reading that summer. He and I embarked on a summer of hitchhiking through Central America, and I tried valiantly to read that book, hoping that spending time in Spanish-speaking countries would provide the right atmosphere, but to no avail. I hated it. My husband finished the book, but retains no fond memories of it. It was bitter medicine.

However, we both have the fondest memories of a summer replete with bed bugs, cutter ants (their bites made me miserable), poison toads, and Montezuma's Revenge. :thumbsup: There's nothing like new love.

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Thanks, vagansmom. It's good to know that I'm not alone in this.

:thanks: There's nothing like new love.
Indeed. And it feels even better without the nonstop, nagging accompaniment of Great Literature. :thumbsup:

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I have a friend whose favourite books are Don Quixote and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maybe DQ (which I've never read) requires a fantasy novel mind-set?

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I have a friend whose favourite books are Don Quixote and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maybe DQ (which I've never read) requires a fantasy novel mind-set?
An very interesting thought. I'm not one who enjoys fantasy fiction. I HAVE, on the other hand, loved a number of books about Cervantes, his period, the historical context, etc. Maybe your friend is right. Vagansmom, how about you?

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New books with a lot of buzz are another story. I just couldn't get into Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise; but all my friends were talking about it, so I plowed through to the bitter end. It took me so long that by the time I finished, nobody was talking about it anymore!

Often as not the 'buzz' is skillful marketing as opposed to real word-of-mouth. And the Rest is Noise is one of those books I've been meaning to get to, etc. Ross is a pretty good writer and it's one of those books that I would expect to like. What made it so hard to get through?

I couldn't make it through The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen when it seemed everyone was talking about it.

I know that certain members won't read any book I suggest except for the first few cursory pages, and I often do the same with one member's choices.

The politics of book clubs are an interesting subject. (I tried joining two, and dropped out quickly. In both cases the selections were much as you describe.)

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Ross is a pretty good writer and it's one of those books that I would expect to like. What made it so hard to get through?
The book is actually very well done. I think the problem for me is that it covers such a wide range of 20th century composers.. I just was not famililar with -- or attracted by -- the work of a number of them.

Later, however, I learned that Ross has an "audio guide" to much of the music mentioned in the book. This was actually wonderfully interesting and useful. I confess, however, that I used it more for reminders of music that I already knew, rather than as an intro to music I did not know or had not enjoyed when I first heard it long ago.

http://www.therestisnoise.com/audio/

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Hans and Bart, I think that's probably true - with a couple exceptions, I'm not much of a fantasy novel reader. I liked C.S. Lewis's space trilogy and Isaac Asimov's science fiction Foundation trilogy, but other than that, I'm generally not interested in fantasy. Ditto my husband's tastes too.

Unlike you, Bart, I do love the ballet Don Quixote, but I think that's because my daughter danced it. However, I do like fantasy in dance a whole lot!

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As I recall, Suzanne Farrell says in her autobiography that Balanchine asked her to read Don Q, but she couldn't get through it. I also remember some big name in letters (George Steiner?) admitting somewhere that he couldn't swear to having read absolutely all of it. So I think you're all in good company. (Personally, I've never even tried to read DQ.)

dirac, I guess part of my problem getting through Ross's book is that he can sound like a college student trying to prove he's a Writer, with Something Important to Say. He's clearly gifted, but the attitude is exhausting. (He's gotten much better in his column in recent years; though I still miss Andrew Porter every week.)

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