19 November 2007

Shocking news on the book front

Well, it might have been, but when the book store in your local mall can't make it, while every store catering to every interest an adolescent (including the over-forty adolescents) can possibly have (especially clothing and music), a story like this just doesn't surprise you.

Sometimes I think it would be great to be able to control the thoughts of the weak-minded in order to make them read more -- like that scene in "Attack of the Clones":

Elan Sleazebaggano: Wanna buy some death sticks?
Obi-Wan Kenobi [using a Jedi Mind trick]: You don't want to sell me death sticks.
Elan Sleazebaggano: I don't want to sell you death sticks.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: You want to go home and re-think your life.
Elan Sleazebaggano: I want to go home and re-think my life...

It would be great to do that to the kids and young adults selling trinkets in the kiosks at the mall.

Trinket-seller: Excuse me, sir. Would you like to buy a gnome?
James [using a Jesuit mind trick]: You don't want to sell me gnome.
Trinket-seller: I don't want to sell you a gnome.
James: You want to go home and re-think your life.
Trinket-seller: I want to go home and re-think my life.
James: And read some books.
Trinket-seller: And read some books.
James: Lots of books.
Trinket-seller: Lots of books.
James: Especially non-fiction.
Trinket-seller: Especially non-fiction.
James: But you'll finish your shift first, of course.
Trinket-seller: But I'll finish my shift first, of course.

That would be fun. Sort of.


Of course, reading more in and of itself wouldn't signify anything. Some time ago we were treated to news that liberals read more than conservatives, as if reading simply more books is an unqualified good. The content of the books themselves would, apparently, be irrelevant. It could be that we're reading less in terms of quantity, but better in terms of content and quality.

Not, of course that we'd all agree on quality. A relative of mine thinks Stephen King is a wonderful writer. I don't. Neither does Harold Bloom. I think Walker Percy is a wonderful writer -- well, was.

But I doubt Americans are reading better in terms of quality than they are in quantity. And I don't think it would pay very well to speculate. One could proffer the suggestion that we just enjoy ignorance. After all, we are notoriously "anti-intellectual." Of course, I think we are so in the best possible way: we don't mind them. In fact, we value them as long as they remember their place. We don't mind being advised by them -- just being ruled by them. We'd sooner be ruled by people selected at random than by the top one hundred graduates of an Ivy League university.

Even if there were not this spirit of "anti-intellectualism", intellectuals themselves have rather harmed the notion of the importance of reading. Once you've read through a handful of texts in contemporary literary criticism (and especially after you've learned to deconstruct everything from your favorite author to the evening news), why bother reading? What can the written word possibly have for you? Truth? Certainly not. A regime of truth, more likely. Entertainment? Perhaps. But then why bother with the tedious process of decoding the written word, for entertainment, when you can play HALO, or whatever else floats your boat?

Reading, for fun? Why bother?

Note: My reference to "Jesuit mind trick" is not to suggest that Jesuits have -- and use -- unethical mind tricks to work their will in people. As a former wanna be Jesuit, I have a great deal of respect for Jesuits, despite the fact that I am outside of Roman Catholic orthodoxy.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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