Dead Caterpillar

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How to read: a guide for adults

Wednesday, Jan 23rd, 2019

There are so many books about leadership these days. I haven’t come across a book about followership but I imagine there are quite a few more followers than leaders in the world. I don’t know why there are no books on followership… Perhaps that is why no one seems to know what they’re doing.

Likewise, there are quite a few books on writing but none on reading, and I imagine there are quite a few more readers than writers in the world. I would write a book on how to read but I don’t think my target audience would know how to read it. Here’s an essay.

First off, slow the fuck down.

Someone once bragged to me that they had read 30 books over the summer. I imagine this same person sprints through beautiful gardens and hastily shoves fistfuls of fine dining down their gullet.

Don’t gallop where you should trot — don’t skip steps down the beautiful spiral staircase — It is perfectly okay, even necessary, to pause, occasionally, and think about the words on the page. You can learn everything you need to know about human nature from books. You can live a thousand lives through books.

People read books as if they are watching a movie. It’s ludicrous to pause at the end of every scene and reflect upon what has just occurred in the movie. It’s ludicrous to watch a quarter of the movie one day, a quarter the following and the rest spread across a week’s span.

If you get to the 30th page and you are still uninterested, drop it. Reading requires patience, not long-suffering. Reading only requires long-suffering if you choose the wrong book, which leads me to my next point.

Don’t choose the wrong book.

Easier said than done, of course. If you think a good man is hard to find, try finding a good book.

Be suspicious of young adult novelists such as Suzanne Collins or John Green. Don’t get me started on the fault in The Fault In Our Stars. John Green’s writing sucks — and I don’t say that because I hate John Green. I do hate John Green but that’s not why his writing sucks.

Of course there is an easy, low-hanging explanation for the sudden popularity of young adult novels amongst, well, old adults. Many critics of this generation have succumbed to it, lauding the perennial belief — passed on from prior generations no doubt — that each generation is somehow stupider than the one which came before, and thus the reading comprehension level of adults has sunk so low, they now read the equivalent of children’s novels.

As hasty as I am to call people of this generation stupid, I am surprisingly not a proponent of this theory, tempting as it may be. People of this generation are in fact stupid but that’s not why young adult novels have risen in popularity.

It is not the readers who are at fault for a lack of interest in adult-adult novels, but the writers. There is little room for the pretenses of the pen in a young adult novel, little room for “the gaze of the mid-day sun” and the “slow-settling of the winter dreary” — whatever the fuck that means. Who the fuck talks like that anyway? I’ll tell you: writers who love the smell of their own farts. Writers who are so impressed with themselves, they fill their books with overly-flowery language, gaudy descriptions and sheepish sentimentality.

Thus we all turn to Harry Potter, because J.K. Rowlings competent and simple prose is refreshing and unpretentious. It’s how we actually talk and think. The story is at least coherent and – by way of wizards, dragons and magical spells – says something true about the world we live in. It’s more realistic, relatable and true to life than “the slow-settling of the winter dreary” — wizards, dragons and all, not withstanding.

What can I say? Life is not a Robert Frost poem.

Ugh. The classics are worse.

I’d be tarred and feathered for saying so in literary circles but I prefer ketchup labels to Kerouac. Print labels to Proust. The back of milk cartons to Conrad (look mom, I’m alliterating!). That’s not to say there aren’t classical authors that have won me over — Twain, Dostoevsky, Pope and, at the risk of sounding a tad pretentious, Erasmus. But as for James Joyce and Kerouac? I don’t agree with the literary circles on that one. After all, what do literary circles know except how to expound upon highly overrated Academic Literary Opinions in relatively simple geometric shapes.

Uphold and admire that which speaks to you, not that which speaks to some turtle-necked literary critic. The world is full of Yale yodels and Harvard schmucks telling people what to like.

New York Times bestseller’s list doesn’t mean shit, either. Let us not forget Stephanie Meyer. And as far as popular things in general go, let’s consider that it was once fashionable to die your teeth pitch-black in some parts of Asia. People once believed steam engines were the end of the technological evolution. Andy Warhol was a thing, for Christ’s sake – popular opinion means fuckall.

True taste is as rare a thing as true talent” – Alexander Pope

Proust just doesn’t do it for me. I like what I like and hate what I hate. You should too.

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