Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Fast Food Fiction and a Shared Reading Experience
I spent quite a lot of time in my 20s reading the books I was 'supposed' to, the Classics with a capital C, the literary ones that were only sold in independent book stores, the ones that were heavily subsidised by the Australia Council because no publisher makes a profit from them but we need them to "contribute to the development of Australian culture", the piles of new ones I was sent to review for a book magazine. And I didn't particularly enjoy it.
There were moments of delight in a particular turn of phrase, in minor characters or a glimpse of a world I might want to inhabit. But not a lot.
Now I read for pleasure as much as I can. I read for the act of reading, to spend time (hours, ideally) turning pages and consuming words. But that's okay, because Rick Gekoski likes Jack Reacher too, for much the same reason I do. He also reads a bunch of fast food fiction, the stuff you mindlessly devour that's enjoyable at the time but not particularly nutritious or memorable.
He talked a while ago about missing a shared reading experience. Unlike previous generations, there are fewer and fewer books we have in common, as a grounding for our cultural experience. This might partly be because of the diversity of books available or the diversity of cultures in most middle-class areas of society. I know I am having fewer discussions on literary type novels these days (although J, I owe you a long phone conversation soon about Kate Atkinson's Life After Life - it took me a while to want to plunge in but plunge I did). I miss my book club although it was incredibly hard coming up with a list of books to read. The thing is, do we currently have an equivalent list to the one he talked about, spanning from the 50s to the early 70s? What's our equivalent now of The Catcher in the Rye or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or The Second Sex or Catch 22 or The Female Eunuch or On the Road? Is there an Australian equivalent (and does it include all of Tim Winton's works)?
Interestingly, this list of the greatest books by women was circulating recently and, to be honest, there's quite a few cheeseburger reads in there. This both delighted and amused me. Despite that, I'd still only made it all the way through 15 of the 102 on the list.
How much fast-food reading do you do? Are you keen to talk more about books? How many of the "greatest books by women" have you read?