I was reading a publishers review of a novel by one of my favorite authors and was surprised to see the conclusion, “Recommended for those who read for more than entertainment.”
My first thought was that this is a stupid statement; after all, who defines entertainment? I know people that solve complex puzzles for entertainment, others dig-up the soil, weed, and plant things that grow for entertainment, a few of my friends love going to the wrestling matches and shout themselves horse whenever the heel is present; my neighbor enjoys sitting on the veranda listening to the wind in the trees and watching the birds flit around. I don’t find novels entertaining or worth my effort if they don’t present some challenge to my reading and my thinking about what I have read.
But I also recognize that there are many avid readers that see reading as entertainment and escape. For these readers the novel has to be somewhat straightforward, the writing smooth and flowing, the characters likable and identifiable, and the situations sufficiently understandable that they could have occurred in their own lives.
I have commented before that I see reading much like food. Sometimes it’s comfort food, simple viands that are pleasant, non-threatening, and tasty: I might add nourishing but if it makes you feel good, does it have to be nourishing? On the other end of the spectrum is that fancy (expensive) stuff that arrives on an oversized plate, surrounded by swirls of color and piled in layers. This is the kind of food that requires annotation to even know what it contains (and you can bet it will contain items of a challenging nature, like strange sauces and organ meats from organs you never knew existed.) But if you’re rushed and don’t have the time or patience to peel back the layers of some gourmet nosh, there’s always the fast food restaurants where you can slam down a few burgers or dirty-water hot dogs in record time.
Now if you are more like Andrew Zimmern, perhaps you need something more exotic or experimental to fire up those taste buds and put a few new kinks in your imagination. I have sponsored a reading group on Yahoo for several years dedicated to literature of a more experimental nature. I’m in the process of migrating the group (XFX) to this web log and will hopefully be able to continue what tend to be interesting reading recommendations and perhaps some exchanges of opinion. I have already been commenting on the XFX reading without actually identifying it (Tropic of Capricorn, for instance) and will continue to do so in the regular web log here at ACOR.
Anyone that is interested can visit the group labeled in the menu at “XFX.” Right now only a couple of group elements have been converted but here is the cover page as it stands now:
This group started on Yahoo. It was designed to concentrate on the types of fiction that we do not normally find on the front rounder at the local big-box bookstore. We call it experimental fiction but it might be considered imaginative fiction, surfiction, and the many other designations that have been applied to fiction throughout the years whenever it doesn’t follow the rules of the mainstream.
Experimental Fiction is a loose term and can be applied to some well-read classics that were experimental in their time, postmodern works, newer efforts such as Bizarro fiction, the West Coast Narrative movement, etc. Simply put, I see experimental literature as writing that is willing …
- to violate the standards of conventional writing
- to approach subjects that are not generally accepted
- to emphasize art before profit.
The current reading list for Experimental Fiction is
- Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller
- The Dog King – Christoph Ransmayr
- A Frolic of His Own – William Gaddis
- Jesus Freaks – Andre Duza
- Parabola – Lily Hoang
5 thoughts on “XFX: Reading for more …”
I know of people who do that. They read the same books over and over again. They abandon books that don’t hold their interest. They stay in their reading comfort zones. That sort of thing. Nothing wrong with it in my mind because reading is reading. But yes, I agree with your reviewer friend that some books aren’t meant for that kind of reader. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure many books intended for those types of reader don’t necessarily do well with the more savoring types.
There is a tired old saying: “The worst day fishing is better than the best day at the office.” I’m not sure that it continues to be as true if we substitute reading—is reading the worst book better than reading no book at all?
If we, for the sake of argument, divide readers into those that read for entertainment and those that read for more than entertainment, I have found through the years that a tolerance such as you express is common. Ironically, it is the readers seeking entertainment that more often are critical of others reading books that might be more than entertainment, especially books that require thought and effort on the part of the reader.
Consider this: when the bonfires are lit, what sort of books are going to be confiscated and thrown into the fire?
Reading for entertainment. It’s an interesting idea, one which I have actually never thought of before; I suppose for me (though I’m hardly as well read as yourself) reading has always been a necessary experience, much like writing. Sometimes it isn’t even “fun” but I still must do it. I suppose I do know many people who read for entertainment, and good for them, so long as they’re reading! The one major problem I see with that kind of mentality is that they only read what they are wholly comfortable with — what they’re used to, what makes them happy, or inspired, etc. And to me that seems awfully limiting.
I hit “post” before I was finished…
And you’re absolutely right about the analogy between books and food. Although I’d never quite thought about it that way, it does make perfect sense. Like with what I like to eat, I have different appetites for different kinds of literary experiences. Very well said!
I love the list.