Friday, September 24, 2004

A Half-assed Discussion of Beach Reading vs. Literature

I am once again getting less and less work to do at work, so I think I’m going to update one more time today.

Call this a READING LIST update and pretend it’s a regular feature (you will get graded on your pretending by the way and failure to do so will result in years of drudgery at a dead-end, business casual job filing TPS Reports).

Recently I finished reading Plowing the Dark by Richard Powers. I consider this somewhat milestonian because it took me months to finish. Unless we’re counting those formative elementary school years, rare is the book that takes me months to finish. The last one, DFW’s massive Infinite Jest, shares a few traits with Plowing: both incorporate thoughts, research and musings on a ridiculous array of topics (for the unfamiliar: IJ bounces easily from drugs, to movies, to tennis and more and Plowing bounces from the various terrorist cells in the Middle East, to the work of Rousseau and Van Gogh, to Virtual Reality and a history of coding easily). Also, both author blurbs highlight their book’s respective writer’s MacArthur Fellowships. Thus my new theory that books written by writers who win genius grants take longer to read than those by “ordinary” writers.

So but then I guess I should carve out a few months to tackle Gravity’s Rainbow huh?

I also continued my reading policy of following up a “difficult” read with a light read when I delved into Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue. Moore’s a tough one to easily describe; it’s a quick read, but it’s not total “fluff” and I’m sure some diehard Joseph Campbell fans will get a kick of how Moore plays with the “trickster” archetype. If I wanted to be one of those smarmy bastards who describe things in one word I’d call it “quirky.”

Right now I’m reading what I would call a kind of “tweener”—not quite “difficult” literary stuff, but not quite “light” reading either—Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. All you fans of playing with the English language like it was recess and the words are kickball (Note: work may be sapping my metaphor creating skill tonight) should check it out. Plus what other novel has a heroine with ginormous thumbs?

But I’m planning ahead to the next read as well. (Much like Ryan Wilson has said numerous times on his blog, I feel like I’ve got a brobdingnagian amount of catching up to do reading wise). So at some point tomorrow, I will head up to the BORDERS outlet near my house and likely plunk down some easily-earned money on Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code.

Which leads us to the “meat” of our discussion (quotes used so as not to offend vegan readers) and that is: if I read both the so-called “high” and “low” (Note: this posting is paid by the “quote”) books, is there really a point to distinguishing between them?

I’ve read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and enjoyed the hell out of it. It would make a great, great movie (though if Harrison Ford were tapped to play the protagonist, the folks behind the Indian Jones franchise would have fair ground to sue) and the pacing was the kind that kept me reading well after I should have attempted going to bed. In many ways, Brown strikes me as being heir to the throne of Michael Crichton—he’ll write a book you can take to the beach, but you’ll likely learn some new tidbit or snippet of science from it too. But, after reading Angels and Demons, I followed it with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. Both books deal with the subject of conspiracies and esoteric sects—Masons, Assassins and Knights Templar, oh my!—but it, to me, is a night and day difference when it comes to the depth of the novels. This is not to say that Brown’s lacks depth or couldn’t spur some interesting discussions however. The twist here, and the one I’d love to seem some other folks weigh in on, is that what do you think is “better” for us? A novel that many, many, many people read that raises a few questions they wouldn’t otherwise ask (and in the case of the DaVinci Code, can spark nationwide discussion) or a novel read by very few non-academic types that really changes some brainwaves and possibly inspire more works like it (or, to truly through a wrench into things) or a popular novel?

Parting note:

This morning I was late for work and tied what I thought was a really half ass knot. Now, eight hours later, it’s still there. Cheers to half-assing.

And, because folks love lists, here is A List of Other Animals That Could Be Halved, So the Ass Doesn’t Feel Alone (and Some Body Parts Too—Because Homonyms Are Cool):

The half dog—similar to half ass, but smaller and more tenacious
The half pygmy marmoset—much like those Paris Hilton mini skirts, less is popular these days.
The half mule-deer—like half assing, but bigger (as in “Paul Bunyan’s really half mule-deering it out there today. Lazy bastard.”)
Half-cocked—well that one isn’t mine really…
Half-breasted—the beauty of this one is its parallel to the ass…at first. But then you realize that while anatomically “ass” refers to both cheeks, “breast” is singular, and then you’re stuck halving a spheroidal part of a person and you have to figure out just were to “half.”
Half-cankled—similar to half-assing, again, but much, much lower.

Much peace, love and reading time—and apologies for any half-big-toed errors: Will


ryan james wilson said...

Tough question: Danielle Steel or Shakespeare. I'll go with my gut and say that the differentiation should be based upon what challenges the mind versus what busies it. But hey, being literate is sufficient in this day and age (cue the "in my day" stories).
Since I am the first comment-leaver-guy on your blog, I think I have some lee-way with what I can offer. So, not that you give a damn, but here's what I've been reading: The Collected Poems of Catallus, Selected and New Poems of Carl Dennis, Selected Poems of Jane Kenyon, Essays of Four Decades by Allen Tate, Animal Soul by Bob Hicok, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Wittgenstein, and re-reading Macbeth and Our Town for class. Of course, all of this has been done half-wildebeast. Cheers.

Jamie said...

Da Vinci Code had no literary merit whatsoever. Skip it. Save your brain.

Sarah said...

I heartily reccommend reading The DaVinci code. It is exciting, well written, and mostly, I felt smarter after reading it. I think that you would enjoy it. But then again, I could be wrong.