Reading, Recreation, and Redemption

November 20, 2004 | 32 comments
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Well, it must be autumn again. Not only is my house threatening to sail away in a sea of leaves (mostly ugly brown oak, sadly), but I’ve been asked to teach a mini-class on literacy at Enrichment. The rhythm of the schoolyear is hard to resist, and almost every fall I’m asked to give a presentation on reading. I’m always happy to comply. This year, though, the notes to my standard presentation were lost in a cross-country move, so I’m asking myself–Why do I like reading fiction, again?

Apparently I’m not the only one asking myself that question. A recent study conducted by the National Endowment of the Arts finds that literary reading has dropped precipitously among Americans during the last twenty years. Now that DVDs deliver hours of bonus features and DSL delivers the internet instantaneously, why would I pick up a work of fiction in my discretionary time? A recent discussion at BCC generated a great list of great books; now I want your help in figuring out why we would read a great book in the first place. Here’s a start:

1.) Simple entertainment. Now that I spend most of my time caring for two preschoolers, the entertainment and escapist value of fiction is more apparent to me than ever before. When life is largely routine, varied and pleasurable stimulation is crucial to maintain one’s sanity and lift one’s mood: it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that good books, good food, good music, and good conversation give me a reason to get up in the morning.

2.) Didactic value. All books teach, either more or less overtly. Some fiction conveys factual information–I might pick up, say, The Work and the Glory to learn about church history. Some fiction conveys instructive experience that, together with the powerful reader-character identification that fiction produces, can teach valuable life lessons–I might pick up, say, Madame Bovary and learn excruciating truths about marriage, desire, adultery and despair.

3.) Spiritual value. On rare occasions, a reader might engage with a fictional character so fully and so intensely that the experience surpasses mere identification and recognition, actually enlarging the soul. Something like this happened when I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch for the first time; the exquisite closing lines of the novel, “That things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs,” provided what I can only describe as a redemptive experience. Grandiose as it sounds, these rare occasions might give us spiritual practice in Christ’s redemptive work of assuming another’s sin, sadness, and sacrifice.

Why do you read fiction?

32 Responses to Reading, Recreation, and Redemption

  1. Aaron Brown on November 20, 2004 at 11:01 pm

    I don’t.

    You mention that some works of fiction convey factual information, yet the fact that most fiction does not makes it hard to for me to justify spending time to read it. I know this makes me horribly unliterary, but I can’t seem to justify reading a novel when there’s so much important non-fictional material to absorb. I occasionally will pick up a novel, but I don’t last for more than about 15 minutes before I tell myself that I could be spending my time more fruitfully by digesting some political, legal or historical tract.

    A few years ago my wife and I spent three weeks traveling the Trans-Sibertian Railway (St. Petersburg to Vladivostok). What a perfect time to finally read Tolstoy’s _War and Peace_, I told myself. Lots of free time on the train with nothing to do. Alas, I talked myself out of it and read Henry Kissinger’s _Diplomacy_ instead. (I’ve since regretted that decision).

    The recent thread at BCC you mention made me feel fiction-deprived for the first time in many years. Maybe it’s finally time to pick up _Anna Karenina_ again and give it a go.

    Aaron B

  2. Keith on November 20, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    One of the main reasons I read fiction lies somewhere between (or a blend of) what you describe in 2 and 3. I read to get experience. Some kind of interest/wonder pushes me on. I read to enjoy characters and ideas and persons and a world created in the novel, apprectiating the gifts of the person who wrote. I read to understand others and the world around me more–including my relation to God–to gain wisdom and compassion. I read and experience, trying to discern and measure the novel’s goodness and beauty, even as I let it challenge me intellectually, morally and spiritually. (Of course, I’ve probably read some things because I had to, or because they are something an “educated” person should have read and one must keep up appearances and have clever things to say. In those moments I suppose one can hope that some of the better things happen anyway.)

    Of course, maybe some of what I’ve described above is not so much why I read as what happens when I read. Interestingly, much of what I describe above I could say (with slight but appopriate adaptation) with respect to why I hike, or listen to music, or study philosophy, or go out on a cold night to watch a meteor shower.

  3. Amira on November 20, 2004 at 11:57 pm

    I mostly read non-fiction, but there is generally a fiction book next to the bed. _These Is My Words_ is the current one. Fiction fits the bill when I want something a little quicker, and a little more relaxing. But please, don’t give me most current popular fiction. I’ll take _House of Mirth_ and _The Return of the Native_. It is a combination of reasons 1 and 2, with 1 being stronger.

    I read non-fiction for #2. My husband just starting teaching at a university and I have been in heaven with the library, requesting books I have been wanting to read for years.

    Many mothers with young children have asked me how I have time to read. I haven’t found very many young LDS mothers who feel that reading is important at this stage in their lives. Why is this? Why would reading not be highly valued in a religion that places a strong emphasis on education? Do many young LDS mothers consider President Hinckley’s injuction to get as much education as possible to apply only to formal eduation- or, even worse, to apply to their husbands?

    In the end, I probably read anything, including fiction, to feel like I’m using my brain every day, even when I had a newborn and a one-year-old. I feel much more intelligent after finishing a book discussing the plight of Cairo’s urban poor than after playing Old Maid for the tenth time. This relates to all three of the stated reasons, but goes beyond. Reading, learning, and now, as an extension, homeschooling, give me the heart to stay home with my children. I am a much better mother for reading.

  4. David King Landrith on November 20, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    Might I reccomend that you add another category called sublime entertainment?

    I don’t subscribe to what Nelson Goodman lampooned as the “Tingle and Immersion” theory of esthetics, and so I think that there are some very clear reasons why great works are so great. But there is a masochistic sense in which society expects one to read great literature for his own good. I prefer to read it out of an exuberant desire for entertainment, because the ability to provide entertainment is what allows great works to make us feel greatly; the St. Crispin’s day speech doesn’t just move us because it’s good propaganda—it moves us because it’s entertaining. Entertainment gets short shrift when one assumes that its results cannot be truly profound.

    What Bertrand Russell says of Tragedy is true of all great literature:

    The beauty of Tragedy does but make visible a quality which, in more or less obvious shapes, is present always and everywhere in life.… in the irrevocableness of a vanished past, there is a sacredness, an overpowering awe, a feeling of the vastness, the depth, the inexhaustible mystery of existence.… In these moments of insight, we lose all eagerness of temporary desire, all struggling and striving for petty ends, all care for the little trivial things that, to a superficial view, make up the common life of day by day; we see, surrounding the narrow raft illumined by the flickering light of human comradeship, the dark ocean on whose rolling waves we toss for a brief hour;…

    That is the immersive feeling that keeps me from setting down a good book. And that’s entertainment!

  5. Bryce I on November 21, 2004 at 12:48 am

    No links, but another study released earlier this year showed that there is a significant gap in fiction reading between men and women — men read much less fiction than women (see Aaron B., above). It seems that this trend begins early in life.

    Why do I read fiction? What, I need a reason? I’ve always read fiction. It’s what I learned to read as a child, so my reading skills have been optimized for fiction. Furthermore, people have always written fiction. It’s a powerful medium for communicating ideas. Sure, there’s mindless entertainment value in some fiction (I went to a library book sale last week where hardcovers were $2.00, paperbacks $0.50, and romance novels $10.00/box), but the great books that you’re asking about have endured because they have something to contribute on all three of your proposed dimensions.

    As a parent of a precocious reader, I spend a part of my fiction reading time on books that I think my daughter might enjoy. I’ve given up pre-reading everything I give her because she can now outpace me. My goal now is to discover books that will open new worlds to her, or that will be sure to entertain her, or teach her something, and to weed out low-quality literature. Sometimes this reading becomes my own as well. I read the entire “A Series of Unfortunate Events” even after deciding after the first book that it was too dark for my daughter at this point.

    As for the decline of literature reading in our society in general, while this is generally lamentable, it’s not necessarily a disaster in the making. After all, we engage in ritualized oral storytelling much less than our ancestors, and I haven’t seen a really great epic poem come out of America in a while (not that I’ve looked). Filmmaking technology has advanced to the point where a hobbyist can produce and edit a film out of his or her home for relatively little money, and as a result, we’re seeing more and more high-quality, low-budget films being produced. And of course with the internet, anyone can publish on the internet (ok, Travels with Samantha isn’t fiction, but you get the point).

    Which leads me to a question–does anyone know if there’s a blog-format work of fiction out there? That is, a story told through a number of fictional blogs interacting with each other? That could be really cool (or really awful).

  6. Julie in Austin on November 21, 2004 at 11:01 am

    BTW, Rosalynde, I read _The Corrections_ on your recommendation. I still can’t decide if I liked it.

    I don’t read a lot of fiction; I prefer nonfiction. There’s so much good nonfiction out there. I also struggle sometimes with getting involved in a story only to determine that the sexual or violence content is too graphic for my tastes. I hate to stop in the middle. (_The Corrections_ made me want to stop a few times.)

    _A Prayer for Owen Meany_ was instrumental in my conversion to the Church.

  7. Brian on November 21, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    I read fiction because it’s quiet–quiet and still.

    And it puts me in power. When I read fiction I’m the set decorator, costume designer, and sound engineer. I get to choose the camera angles, lighting, and cast all the roles. In my mind I dictate how each line is read, and when to hold on a shot or cut away. The pleasure of producing and directing the show in my mind is what keeps me coming back to fiction again and again. No other form of storytelling allows the audience to take as active a role in the creative choices and that’s why the number of fiction readers may diminish, but reading will never die. There’s too many of us that still want to be involved.

    The other competing forms of narrative, films, TV, and video games have all evolved into a state of dependence on technology. In the craft of storytelling there’s an inverse relationship between the level of technology used on the part of the storytellers and the level of imagination provided by the audience. As cinematic technology continues to advance, we are rapidly approaching a point where audiences routinely take a seat and have all their senses bludgeoned into a passive state of submission. The end result is the pleasure of reading is all that much sweeter, but what I fear is not the end of reading, but the end of imagination.

  8. Mark B. on November 21, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    There is no reason to believe that a history or a biography or (especially) a political tract is any more true than fiction. Good literature can teach us more about life, more about human nature, than history or biography. Whether it’s War and Peace or Middlemarch or To Kill a Mockingbird or Catch-22, literature can teach us great truths.

    That’s why I can say that Job is true, without worrying about its historicity.

  9. Ivan Wolfe on November 21, 2004 at 8:02 pm

    I like Orson Scott Card’s reason for reading fiction.

    He says the reason we read fiction is so we can get into other people’s heads. In real life, all we can do is guess as to why other people do the things they do. (OSC thinks most modern psychology is useless, BTW).

    Nonfiction genres, he says, are useful for facts and for analyzing and interpreting the outward effects of things. But fiction is the only genre where we can truly get inside someone else’s head (he’s referring to the characters in fiction – not necessarily the author).

    That’s what he feels is fiction’s strength as well: film can’t really get inside the heads of characters as well as fiction can. But with fiction, we can get inside and figure out what makes the characters tick and what motivates them.

    I’m not sure if I agree, but OSC makes a pretty good case. Track down his book “Characters and Viewpoint” for his actual thoughts on this, rather than my paraphrased remembrances.

  10. Sarah on November 21, 2004 at 9:08 pm

    I read fiction because I love good stories. I write fiction because I like telling stories.

    I read nonfiction because I love good stories. I write nonfiction because I like telling stories.

    What can I say, I’m just a story loving girl.

    Anyway, nonfiction can’t go to every place my imagination can, and that’s its biggest weakness, as far as I’m concerned. I can think of things that aren’t, and I want to be able to read what other people have thought about things that aren’t, just as much as I can think about and read about things that are.

    I like books because I can get in the characters’ heads and I get to be the director and all that other stuff, but that’s not why I like fiction. “Star Wars” is fiction. “Star Wars” has more in common with “Hamlet” and “Twelfth Night” and Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird (the books/plays, not their movies) than it does with, say, Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” or anything on CNN.

    I like fiction because the real world that I can see and watch informative TV shows and read interesting National Geographic articles and enjoy difficult monographs about, isn’t enough for me. ^_^

  11. Melissa Fox on November 21, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    I read to escape the “real” world. Nothing captures my imagination more than a well-developed character and story. I read to remind myself that I’m a thinking, rational adult (though most of what I read is designated as “youth fiction”). I read because I’ve always read.

    What I found interesting is what Amira mentioned: there are so many young LDS mothers in my ward who just don’t “have time to read” (and yet have time to watch Oprah). “Reading makes me tired”; “I can’t find time to just sit and read”; “There’s nothing interesting”; “I know I should, but…”

    I’ve helped start a book group in our ward, and last month we had in attendance (reading Emma, by Jane Austen) three women who are grandmothers, one 40ish woman, me and a woman in her late-20s. Not too bad. But, then again, where are all the young mothers?

    How do you convince someone that reading something other than “Church books” (because they read those, mostly) is worthwhile?

  12. Rosalynde Welch on November 21, 2004 at 10:01 pm

    Great comments, all! (Does anybody mind if I poach your ideas for my presentation?)

    Aaron B.: You’re in good nonfiction-reading company, my friend. I always start my presentation with Brigham Young’s priceless words on novel-reading (this is long, but it’s not to be missed): From “The Essential Brigham Young,” p 216:

    “Another thing, I will say to the young ladies especially, that if I should live to have the dictation of a stake of Zion that would live according to the Order of Enoch, this nonsensical reading would cease. This “yellow covered” literature would not come into the houses of the Saints. We should dispense with this, and cast it from us; if it were here, we would cast it out and sell it to the paper makers, and let them make it up into paper to use for a better purpose, to make our own books. In such a state of society we would have every person study that which would be useful. Here are our young women—now I am not going from home to get this experience. I hope that my children know as much about the Bible, Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants as they do about yellow covered books. But you ask many of our young people about these stories: “What a beautiful story there is in” such and such a paper! Or “what a beautiful story there” is in this paper or in that. They know all about it. The proprietors of these papers get men and women to write stories with no other foundation than the imaginations of their own hearts and brains, and our young women and boys read these lies until they get perfectly restless in their feelings, and they become desperate, and many of our girls—I am not accusing any one here, I think they pay attention to their business a little better, they have got cows to milk instead of novels to read—but in our part of the land many of our young women just hope and pray, if they ever thought of prayer, “I do wish some villain would come along and break open my room and steal me and carry me off; I want to be stolen, I want to be carried away, I want to be lost with the Indians, I want to be shipwrecked and to go through some terrible scene, so that I can experience what this beloved lady has experienced whom I have been reading about.” Oh, how affecting! and they read with the tears running down their cheeks, until their books become perfectly wet, and they do so wish that somebody or other would come and steal and carry them off. If I had the dictation of a society, all this would stop, you would have none of it. I would have every person learning something useful. We would come together for two hours after the labors of the day and we would read the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Voice of Warning, history, geography; perhaps we would get up a class for the study of law, for we have to meet the world as it is. We would study physic, anatomy, surgery; the history of our own nation and of other nations; we would have classes in which our German brethren might teach the young people, and the [p.217] old ones too, the German language, and when that was through with we would have the best of the instruction imparted in the English language or in other languages, or in something that would be profitable and useful to pupils in their future life. ”

    There was also a good article by Richard Cracroft in a BYU Studies a while back about Brigham Young and novel reading: https://byustudies.byu.edu/productitem.asp?id=1229&type=6

  13. Melissa on November 21, 2004 at 10:20 pm

    I personally prefer nonfiction but make a conscious effort to read fiction regularly. Because different sorts of language games are played in fiction than in nonfiction, steady consumption of both is invaluable to me as a student and teacher. Patterns emerge and themes overlap in ways that enable one to make new connections, synthesize complicated material and draw conclusions.

    On Friday I experienced the pleasure of watching this process occur in my students as they compared Nietzshe (which they read last week) to Dostoevsky (which they’d read the week before).

  14. Rosalynde Welch on November 21, 2004 at 10:21 pm

    Keith, you wrote: “Of course, I’ve probably read some things because I had to, or because they are something an “educatedâ€? person should have read and one must keep up appearances and have clever things to say. In those moments I suppose one can hope that some of the better things happen anyway.” Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to read just because we “should.” If I were to add a fourth reason for reading, it might be “Species Solidarity.” Whether or not one enjoys fiction, it must be admitted that literature is a pinnacle of human achievement; perhaps one should read fiction, if for no other reason, merely to share the experience with humanity (the majority of humans across time could not read, of course, but oral storytelling filled many of the same purposes). This is the reason why I try to keep up (if only hazily) on scientific advances and other forms of human achievement.

    Amira & Melissa: About young LDS mothers who don’t read… Once again I find that I’ve been shockingly lucky in my wards: both ward I’ve lived in since I’ve had children have maintained two different book groups, and in my last ward we formed a writing group, too. Last month we read “A Room with a View” and “Under a Wing,” this month it’s “Frankenstein.” I wish I knew what made the groups so successful in my wards–my last ward had a high concentration of women with advanced degrees, but my current ward doesn’t. Amira, I loved how you wrote that reading “gives me the heart to stay home with my children”–that’s what I meant by saying that good books give me a reason to get up in the morning.

    Bryce: Interesting comments about gender; note that the BY quote I posted above is primarily addressed to young women, as well. Maybe the escapist aspect of fiction is more appealing to people in circumscribed circumstances (as women often are). And about choosing “good” literature for your daughter–that’s admirable (and I’d love your reading lists), but I thrived on a steady diet of Nancy Drews for a few grades (like two a weekend) and I think it did me no harm.

    Julie: Yes, “The Corrections” is pretty strong stuff, in parts (I considered posting a warning with my recommendation). But I found the family dysfunctions to be comically and horrifyingly compelling, and instructive, in many ways. By the way, you’re a fast reader!

    Brian: “I read fiction because it’s quiet–quiet and still.” Meaning it doesn’t wake Keeley when you get home from work? Very interesting comments on technology and narrative.

    Sarah: I think Amira, Melissa and I would all arm-wrestle to get you in our respective book groups!

  15. Melissa on November 21, 2004 at 10:32 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Do you know Janice Radway’s book _Reading The Romance_? She explores the popularity of romance novel reading among suburban housewives. Her central argument is that women read these novels (which are very similar to the description offered in BY’s comment) for complex psychological reasons. By reading these romance novels they are able to identify with the heroine, who always goes through some horrific event, (often rape) but triumphs in the end. Radway claims that far from being merely “escapist”, these novels help the women work through the challenges they experience at home. The stories, indirectly address the women’s anxieties which result from their social and familial position. In the end she argues that the act of romance novel reading is an act of power–it is their way of resisting patriarchy (this is entirely counterintuitive, of course, since the novels are so misogynistic and demeaning to women). I think there are serious flaws with her study, but it is an interesting read and I think it suggests that there might be more reasons to read fiction than the three you listed.

  16. Rosalynde Welch on November 21, 2004 at 10:39 pm

    I think I’ve seen an article version of Radway’s book, but I have only vague memories. Sounds very provocative–you (and she) are surely correct that “escapism” is too reductive an explanatory term. I’m slightly suspicious of her conclusion, merely because the “act of power/resisting patriarchy” trope has become such a cliche in academic criticism–but who knows, she could be right. (Nice how graduate school has taught me to pass judgment on a piece before I’ve even seen it.) And I agree absolutely that there are far more reasons for reading fiction than the holy trinity I’ve set out–many of which have been ably articulated here!

  17. David King Landrith on November 21, 2004 at 10:51 pm

    Rosalynde Welch I always start my presentation with Brigham Young’s priceless words on novel-reading.

    So now your post has illicited our ill-considered confessions and proven that we are vile heretics. I never even saw it coming. You’re good—really good.

  18. Clark Goble on November 22, 2004 at 12:40 am

    Before college I read tons of fiction. Now, after college, I mainly read non-fiction. However when I break down to read fiction, it is usually escapism. I probably ought to be embarrassed about some of my choices. I love reading the Rogue Warrior series by Dick Marcinko. Sort of a take no prisoners Seal team story written by one of the big wigs from the Seal program. Of course the last few books in the series haven’t been worth reading. Further its filled with violence and, to say the least, crass language. Guilty pleasure?

    There are a few others probably on that line. But, looking at my shelves, even those sorts of books don’t make it as often as they used. I used to read all the Robert Jordan fantasy series. But the only series I constantly go back and reread is Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe Series. (Dorsai, The Final Encyclopedia, etc.)

  19. Nate Oman on November 22, 2004 at 9:21 am

    I am with Aaron. I almost never read fiction. The last novel that I read cover to cover was Stegner’s _Crossing to Safety_. From time to time I will pick up a novel but I almost never complete them. There is too much non-fiction that I feel like I should read. I actually read history for escapism. My “serious” reading (ie reading that may be academically and professionally useful) consists almost entirely of abstract argument (legal, philosophical, or occasionally economic). Narrative history provides me with mind candy. No offense meant, but it is simply easier to read David Fromkin’s _A Peace to End All Peace_, which I am currently reading, or something like Arrington’s biography of _Brigham Young_ that it is to read articles on economic theories of contract damages or the difference between inclusive and exclusive positivism.

    I have, however, an even wierder form of entertainment reading. I read about chess. Right now I am reading Bruce Pandolfini’s annotations of the last Kasparov v. Deep Blue tournament, and it is absolutely facinating. I know that some chess purists denigrate Pandolfini as a poseur popularizer, but I enjoy his work. It is readable and he understands that chess books can and should be written so they can be read without a chess board. I recently figured out why I like studying chess. It is intellectually challenging, with a nice blend of concrete calculations and obtruse strategic abstraction. Better yet, it is blessedly deviod of ideological content. (Kasparov’s strange attempts to read Marxism into Phildor’s “Pawns are the heart of chess” comments and the like not withstanding.) Since I spend most of my time in the ideologically freighted world of law (and to a much lesser extent) political philosophy, I find thought without ideology refreshing.

  20. Julie in Austin on November 22, 2004 at 9:36 am

    Funny you should mention that, Nate, I read _Crossing to Safety_ last week and enjoyed it immensely.

  21. Blake Ostler on November 22, 2004 at 9:49 am

    I have a steady diet of fiction. In addition to the Ender series by OSC which I loved (especially the newest trio), I have read the entire 12 volumes of the Wheel of Time series, all of Dan Brown’s books, all of Grisham’s books, R. A. Salvatore, James Michner’s historical novels, the Name of the Rose and the Old Testament (especially Deuteronomy).

  22. Blake Ostler on November 22, 2004 at 9:53 am

    Oh, I forgot any book by Thomas Hardy (especially the Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the Dubervilles) is a must. I also read Superman magazines on a regular basis and I own a very nice Superman suit that was made by my earth-mother from material found in my space ship put there by my Kryptonian mother that I wear under my suit when I go to court.

  23. Nate Oman on November 22, 2004 at 9:54 am

    I listen to a fair amount of fiction on tape during my commute to work, but this is mainly because the Fairfax Public Library has a pretty sorry collection of non-fiction on tape.

  24. Jack on November 22, 2004 at 10:05 am

    I can’t imagine what life would be like without the fictional characters that I know and love.

    What?! No Frodo? No Peter Pan or Mr. Toad? No Huck Finn or Atticus Finch?

    These timeless characters seem to have a life of their own and are enshrined in our mental museums as sacred artifacts. Why? I’m not sure, but I think it may because we want them to “live” in us. We ache for them almost as for the loss of loved ones and resurrect them from fiction into reality by allowing them to affect who we are, and those that affect us more deeply are are more beloved.

  25. Amira on November 22, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Sister Hinckley is always the one I’ve wanted in a book group. I love her statement, “Since college was not an option, I decided, well, if this is my life, I’d better educate myself. And I worked hard at it. I read and read and read.”

    President Hinckley said about his wife “Your voracious appetite for reading and your relentless pursuit of knowledge have kept you alert and refreshing throughout a long and fruitful life.”

    That is what I want someone to say about me when I am 90. This is why we should read.

    Maybe I’ll start telling young mothers to read these quotes when they ask me how I have time to read.

  26. Ana on November 22, 2004 at 11:51 am

    I agree withIf there’s anything left to be said, it’s only this: Fiction seems to feed my brain in a unique way. I write for a living, mostly nonfiction, press releases and articles. Somehow I need all those words and sentences and paragraphs and stories composting in my brain to be able to produce worthwhile words of my own.

    Other than that, like Sarah, I love the stories, and not in moderation. I will devour a great story. My husband sighs in despair when I bring home a new Orson Scott Card title. It means I will be pretty much useless and cranky for a day or two as everything else becomes a nuisance. I’m not proud of this …

    I also appreciate the chance to use fiction to address some challenging questions in unexpected ways. I was describing to my husband the other night a book called _Children of God_ by Mary Doria Russell, and its sequel, _The Sparrow_. They are a little Card-esque, but from a Catholic POV and more jarring in some ways than all the Card I’ve read. They address what it entails to spread the gospel to a foreign culture, what it means to endure adversity and keep believing. Other topics, too. I recommend them if you don’t mind getting jarred.

    I identify a lot with an ancestor of mine who owned a flock of sheep as the main means of support for his family. He loved to go out with the sheep into the Wyoming grasslands, taking a book with him, letting the sheep wander as he occupied himself in a world of words and stories. His family never prospered financially until he was sent on a mission and his wife took over the business. I always think, there’s a man who was born too soon. In today’s American West, he coulda been a professor. ;o)

  27. Jonathan Green on November 22, 2004 at 1:10 pm

    Rosalynde, the citation from Brigham Young is striking for how closely it parallels contemporary and early responses to the 18/19th-century “reading revolution.” His particular concern with women and with young people, the focus on excessive emotional responses, the contrast between useful and religiously uplifting reading material vs. fictional novels, and the emphasis on the dangers of inexpensive and easily available media (“yellow covered novels”)–they all show up in alarmed responses to increased reading by traditionally illiterate classes since the late 18th century. Novels were the Internet pr0n of their time in some ways. I can’t get the BYU Studies site to load, so maybe Cracroft’s article makes the same points.

    On the other hand, please note that a modern prophet has instructed all of you to learn German. Will you not heed the voice of warning?

  28. David King Landrith on November 22, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    Blake Ostler: I also read Superman magazines on a regular basis

    You may like Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. They are the finest mainstream super-hero comic books yet written. Bendis’ Ultimate Spiderman is outstanding also, as are (to a lesser degree) his Ultimate Fantastic Four and Daredevil (as is just about anything by Bendis, especially his less mainstream stuff like Torso or Powers).

  29. Shannon Keeley on November 23, 2004 at 12:05 am

    Interesting thread, especially since I’ve been trying to figure out which books to bring with me over the Thanksgiving vacation. Brian takes this decision very seriously, and he often has more books packed in his luggage than clothes!

    I agree with those that have said they read to “escape,� and I admit that this is often my motivation as well.

    Other times, though, I think I read not to escape, but to remember.
    So many fiction pieces include scenes, lines, or moments that seem to capture so perfectly a specific feeling to experience that I’ve had in my own life.

    On a related note, certain books are linked to significant events in my life just because I happened to be reading that book when the event occurred.
    For example, I was reading A Prayer for Owen Meany this summer when my father was in the final weeks of his illness. I’ll forever remember reading that book while curled up on the hospital bed next to my dad. It’s a pretty moving and powerful story on ti’s own, but the fact that it’s linked in my memory with my father’s death, gives it more meaning to me. When I taught English, I had some really special moments teaching Toni Morrisson’s The Bluest Eye. So, for me, that book is always an emotional link to my “teaching years� and that phase of my life.

    Why don’t more young mom’s read??
    Because we’re exhausted! And I think if you don’t come to enjoy reading as leisure early on, it just feels like more work, while watching Oprah is passive.

    So, which book will be awarded that coveted spot in my Thanksgiving suitcase?
    I’m not sure. I’ve been reading Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 recently, but I’m really not that into it. Not sure if it’s travel-worthy.
    I am seriously considering buying the latest David Sedaris book, the title has something about Corduroy Pants. It’ complete escapism, but I deserve it. So, I think it’s be David Sedaris. . .unless anyone has any suggestions to convince me otherwise.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on November 23, 2004 at 7:43 am

    This thread has inspired Melissa to finally do something that she’s been talking about for a while: transfering her book reviews to a blog. (She’s been writing short reviews of books she has read, just for the sake of keeping track of her own thought, for years, and we’re beginning to run out of space on our own website anyway.) Check it out here; she’ll be adding material at her own pace as time goes by.

  31. Bill on November 23, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Usually when I’m in a melancholy mood, I’m really enjoying it so I’ll read some more depressing literature.

    But occasionally, when the healthy melancholy threatens to veer off into cynicism or despair, I need something hilarious to get me laughing out loud. At these moments, I take down one of the following from my bookshelf:

    Bouvard et Pecuchet, The Good Soldier Svejk, Tartuffe, Henry IV, pt.1, Catch-22, Don Quixote, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Augie March, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Dog of the South, The Little Demon, Le Roman de Renart, Gargantua, and In Praise of Folly

  32. greenfrog on November 24, 2004 at 9:12 am

    I recently had a strange experience that put me off fiction for a bit. I had picked up what turned out to be poorly written science fiction based on all sorts of imaginary concepts of physics and the like.

    And as I was reading the words, I had an “out of text” experience. I realized (and I’m sure that I can’t be the first one to discover such a thing — this was just the first time that I discovered it) that the words on the page were just relational to each other. They only made sense within the con-text created by the other words of the text. And, as I already noted, the context of the book wasn’t particularly compelling.

    In perspective, I suppose that the same point is true to some degree of all texts (including this one). But it seemed much clearer with regard to the piece of fiction I was working on at the time. And since then, I’ve found myself reading things like Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents, Barabasi’s Linked, and Krishnamurti’s Total Freedom.

    FWIW, I’d like to understand that odd experience better, so if there are materials that illuminate such matters, I’d be happy to get recommendations.