Reading: You’re Doing it Wrong

Back in my book club days, I became notorious for my need for a likable character. I know that not every book should have one, or need one, but time is precious, and I don’t spend my time with real unlikable people. Why would I want to spend my inner, literary time and energy on fictitious unlikable people? I guess that means I’m not really an intellectual. at this point, my time and will and energy to read has all but come to a standstill, so it’s really a moot point. (It’s also pertinent to point out that I read a lot more ABOUT books than I do actual books these days.)

But reading this piece in Slate got me all riled up about it again.

” … If you want self-help that’s going to make you feel good, or you want the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, fantastic, that’s a great thing to read, I have no complaints about that. But it’s not compatible with serious endeavor.”

-Claire Messud, author of the recent novel “The Woman Upstairs”

Now, I used to try SO hard at “serious endeavor” as she calls it. Our book club read “The Satanic Verses,” for Christ’s sake. We read Dostoyevsky! We read lots of other serious stuff, and not ONE Candace Bushnell book! And I enjoyed it, because I enjoyed the discussion. We started the club because we missed the extra something we had gotten out of books while in school, that came from the academic discussion of books. But there’s always someone out there telling you you’re doing it wrong.

Messud tries to paint it as a feminist issue; like “No one says that male protagonists have to be likable.” I call bulls**t. I don’t want to hang around with a fictitious male idiot, jerk or ne’er-do-well for 300 pages any more than I do a female one.

So I guess the question is, WHY SHOULD I READ YOUR BOOK? Why do we read? For most of us, (i.e., the people you want to buy your book), we aren’t reading for an assignment. We aren’t reading as research for a role or because we want to see what’s happening in literature for when we write OUR next serious novel, and we aren’t literary critics. We’re reading because we want an escape; we want to learn; we want to be entertained; we need a break from our own lives. We read because we want to relax. If you don’t care why we read, and want to write what you want to write the way you want to write it, that’s all well and good, just don’t yell at the interviewer who is helping you get publicity to sell your book.

And for the record, I can think of a few female protagonists who perhaps wouldn’t be great slumber party guests but who were not loathsome companions for the 3-600 pages we spent with them. (Katniss Everdeen. Lisbeth Salander. Even Hermione Granger. OK, give me a break, I said I haven’t gotten much reading done lately.)

 

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