Wednesday, July 14, 2004

J. Peder Zane, ed. Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading, 2004.

A collection of essays each entitled "The Most X Book I Read," where X ranges from Memorable to Maddest to Double-D-Daring to Smokin' to Technically Elegant to Unpleasant to...

It's always fun to me to see how others have reacted to books--especially ones I've read, but really any book--and so this was a diverting, if unexciting book. It's not worth shelling out for, but as a library book, not a waste of time.

I will quote a segment from "The Most Elegant Book I Read" by Howard Bahr, referring to William Alexander Percy's Lanterns on the Levee. It struck me as true and sad, especially after reading last week of the decline of reading in the USA; it's a sic transit gloria mundi et ubi sunt for reading. Pompous and pretentious, it's nevertheless honest, and I sympathize with Bahr:

In our culture, we no longer care to make distinctions, and we have exchanged even the pretense of Percy's "exterior" for the cheap illusion of honesty. To those who find this occasion for applause, I submit the following answer to a question on my final exam last spring:
There is also a reason for people to dislike literature. The reason literature class can be dull and difficult is because of poetry analization[sic!]. The common man dislikes poetry because he does not know the meaning of half the words being used.
Also, if one did understand the vocabulary of the author, it would still require deep thoughts from the reader to grasp the meaning of the poem.
I would probably enjoy literature [the lad goes one,] if there was no such thing as technology. Technology has made easier for people to be lazy and simply flip on the television rather sit down and read a book.

You may supply the missing words yourself, together with the larger implications of this remarkable admission. Let us be common. Let us find the great voices of humanity dull and difficult. Let us, above all, celebrate laziness, avoid deep thoughts, and blame it on technology rather than our own tragic indifference. Thus the marrow goes, and all our vitals, and at last our collective soul. (228-29)