Sunday, August 03, 2008

Teh Asenshul Reedz: adventures in the literary canon. I enjoy the experiential qualities of reading. Time with a book is so indulgently solipsistic; it's time alone with yourself. As Sam Anderson writes in New York magazine:
Real reading is not just hoarding fodder for cocktail chatter, it’s crawling, phrase by phrase, through a text and finding yourself surprised or disappointed or ruined or bored with every other line. This direct connection—the voice that enters your brain and mingles with your own internal voice—is the only way books really matter...
The trouble is that there is such a great amount of cultural capital to be had from reading, and I would be the most pretentious person on earth if I claimed that none of this is important to me and that I only read for my own pleasure. Of course I want to spend my capital (ie, impress people) by talking about what I've read.

This is something with which I struggle. I find book snobbery offputting in much the same way that I was infuriated by Terry Durack proselytising a food canon. Worst of all are those "100 Books" lists produced by newspapers and magazines every so often. You're encouraged to judge yourself against these lists, which creates a shame culture in which you either have to 'confess' to not having tackled some monstrous doorstop like Don Quixote or In Search Of Lost Time or you perfect the social skill of pretending you've read them.

I feel particularly crestfallen when it comes to macking on someone with literature. Back in 2005 I was struggling with the commonsensical idea that couples get together if they 'have things in common' - and surely someone is all the more attractive if you can converse animatedly about how "brilliant, brilliant," certain books are. If you think of your reading as seduction, you then get to transfer all your anxieties over your sexiness onto your reading, where they do not belong. (Other pleasurable experiences ruined for me by anxieties over sexiness: dancing, karaoke, wearing clothes.)

But all this said, I really do want to read more books out of my comfort zone, and I want to set down my thoughts on the books I read. Thus I am instituting a semi-regular blog series entitled Teh Asenshul Reedz, based on this list, which I chose because it's a mashup list of other lists, and also because it's as good (and as bad) as any other. First up is The Great Gatsby, which I happen to have just finished.

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