Let’s just get this out of the way: I love to read. Adore it. It is by far my favorite thing to do in this whole world. I learned when I was four and have simply never stopped. I even chose my college major (and potential future careers) based on it, which is how I ended up with a Masters degree in English literature. I enjoy many kinds of reading, from nonfiction to young adult books, from mystery novels to fantasy, from classics to the latest and greatest craze. What I read has made me who I am.
And just like most people who have an adored hobby, I think everyone else should love to read, too. Especially members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member and from which perspective I’ll be writing this blog. I’ll enumerate exactly why I think everyone should read in another post. In this one, I just want to talk about what kinds of books I plan to focus on in this blog.
And I’m the first to admit that some books are better than others. Many books are simply not worth my time to read, because the subject matter is moronic, inappropriate, immoral, degrading to the human spirit, or intended merely to shock without having any redeeming value. Or maybe the writing is just crummy. Or some (or all) of the above. Or the writing is so “good” that it obscures any meaning the book might otherwise have (but more on that later). There are just so many really good books out there I have a hard time justifying wasting any of my reading time on drivel.
On the other hand, many books have good writing and tell a great story, but lack any real substance. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of reading. I do a lot of it myself, in fact. It’s the kind of thing I grew up reading (while my reading level was always way above my age, my taste was certainly not. I just read The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, and and other books meant for kids my age really really fast) and it’s the kind of thing I enjoy reading today– in fact, I’d probably say that most of my recreational reading falls into this category. But just because these books are good doesn’t mean there isn’t something better.
I’m not talking about so-called “literary fiction,” which takes such pains to be “artistic” and “avant-garde” that it’s difficult to figure out what the author is trying to say, let alone what it all means. Like I said, I have an MA in English, and I’m pretty sure I’m not smart enough to read that kind of thing (either that, or I’m too smart– can’t tell which). I find most of this type of “literature” (and I use the term loosely) to be arrogant and incomprehensible, and I avoid reading them whenever possible. No, let the literary artistes keep writing books for other literary artistes. I’ll keep reading the good stuff.
I have long felt that they very best books are those that combine a well-written, entertaining, and engaging story with something deeper, something more profound, like a moral lesson, and intriguing idea, a glimpse of what it means to be human. They may be classics written many years ago, or they may be the latest Sci-Fi bestseller, but they should always be enjoyable and understood, on at least some level, to everyone who might read them. They’re the books that stick with you, that you want to read again and again. That move you to tears of sorrow or joy. That help you have understanding and empathy for those who are different than you. That make you stop and think. That change the way you look at yourself. That change the way you look at the world.
Those are the books I call “literature”, and are what I want to talk about here. And I can’t wait to get started. Won’t you join me?