Saturday, July 14

Bloom, King, Hornby

I have some strands in my head that have the makings of an interesting post. I'm not going to make a a real go of it though. It's Saturday morning, the sun is shining, and I have a hankering for a bagel. I'm going for a walk. What I'll do for now is plop down the strands here for now and perhaps I shall return later in the day to assemble them into something resembling a thoughtful post. EDIT - No such luck.

From Dumbing down American readers, by Harold Bloom

"The Decision to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind . . . The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat.

. . .

Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I'm 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I've seen the study of literature debased. There's very little authentic study of the humanities remaining.

. . .

Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this "distinguished contribution" award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There's Cormac McCarthy, whose novel "Blood Meridian" is worthy of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," and Don DeLillo, whose "Underworld" is a great book."

From Stephen King has a shining talent, by Sam Jordison

"It may be a testimony to my own idiocy, but I like plenty of penny dreadfuls and I also like Stephen King. As something of a snob myself, I too spent many years assuming that he was crap (even though I hadn't actually read any of his books). But I was eventually persuaded that the brain behind films as good and as varied as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and (of course) The Shining had to have something going for it. Even if his prose was turgid. And when I got stuck into a copy of the The Shining, I was pleasantly surprised.

. . .

More important than such personal enjoyment of King's craftsmanship, is the fact that he's the bestselling adult novelist in the world. Please don't misinterpret me as saying that more is better. I simply mean that to dismiss Stephen King out of hand is to dismiss millions of readers and, crucially, millions of readers in the world's most powerful country, the US. It is to these fans that King speaks most intimately and about whom he therefore has the most to tell us.

. . .

In short, King's ability to reflect contemporary US society - and (thanks to his huge fan base) to affect it - is as powerful as any other writer around today. And if that isn't impressive literature... Well, you tell me."

From Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, by Nick Hornby

“...boredom, let’s face it, is a problem that many of us have come to associate with books. It’s one of the reasons why we choose to do almost anything else rather than read; very few of us pick up a book after the children are in bed and the dinner has been made and the dirty dishes cleared away. We’d rather turn on the television. Some evenings we’d rather go to all the trouble of getting into a car and driving to a cinema, or waiting for a bus that might take us somewhere near one. This is partly because reading appears to be more effortful than watching TV, and usually it is, although if you choose to watch HBO series, such as The Sopranos or The Wire, then it’s a close-run thing, because the plotting in these programs, the speed and the complexity of the dialogue, are as demanding as a lot of the very best fiction.

One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have gotten it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they’re hard work, they’re not doing us any good.

. . .

If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity——and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured——then we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits. 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 TV program. You failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn’t mean you’re dim——you may find that Graham Greene is more your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch, or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever. It doesn’t matter.

. . .

In Britain, more than twelve million adults have a reading age of thirteen or under, and yet some clever-dick journalist still insists on telling us that unless we’re reading something proper, then we might as well not bother at all.

. . .

And please, please, please stop patronizing those who are reading books——The Da Vinci Code, maybe——because they are enjoying it. For a start, none of us knows what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader. It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing."

From What makes a book good? comment thread, by Ben

"When we ask, 'good for what,' why can't we simply answer, 'good for the enjoyment of the reader?' Would that defeat the entire purpose of this discussion? Perhaps, but that's what I believe it boils down to. What is any hobby good for? Escapism or edification, whatever the goal, reading is not unlike other hobbies, and just as with other hobbies the payoff for each individual is unique."

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