Reading Stuff

This blog post goes out to all you illiterate types out there. If this were a song, it would be your song.

Matthew McConaughey ReadingI’m not a big fan of books. It’s a matter of principle, really. They’re archaic. We have movies now. There’s simply no excuse to have to read something. Yes, I know. The typical argument for books is “You get so much more out of a book! That’s why the book version is always better than the movie version.” Well, that’s why God invented television. Or Hell, why not have seven hour movies? It worked for Solaris. The point is the only shortcoming of movies is that we put an arbitrary time limit on them. They could give us everything a book can, and so much more, in a quicker, more efficient manner.

That being said, I am not as faithful as I would like to be. I have in fact read books. A Kindle Fire was even recently introduced into my life. I immediately saw it as a threat for I’d always known that literacy was a looming danger in my life. It has made reading just convenient enough that I’ve done it on occasion. It’s too easy to read on the subway. I blame the utter horror of humanity. If people-watching wasn’t so damned depressing, I wouldn’t need a wordy distraction. But one can only stare into so many dead eyes before the soul completely erodes.

Aside from the many flaws inherent in reading, I think the most repugnant aspect is in the readers themselves. There is an air of pretentiousness that seems to go hand in hand with knowing things, even fictional things. And that’s just not cool. Now, if you want to impress me with your knowledge of astrophysics because you read stuff about it, alright, I’ll give you that. But don’t think you’re somehow a genius because you notice that Flowers for Algernon struggles with the idea of ignorance being bliss. You’re far too smugly happy with yourself to be an actual genius.

Still, I don’t mean to put anyone down for choosing to read. If you choose to read and not be pretentious, then fine. It’s when you cross that line, as oh so many of you do, that it becomes unbearable. And you’re hurting the reputation of all literate people with your attitude. To illustrate this, let me recount a friendly run-in I had with a reader once.

I invited several people out to dinner, on me. Not that I’m pompous, though I am, but it seems like if someone is treating you to dinner, you could at least pretend to not hate them. Well, Anastaysia was not going to enjoy my free food without letting her true feelings be known. I introduced myself, and she was already unhappy before anything even transpired. It was like she smelled my illiteracy. “I’m Anastaysia,” she said as if the introduction was a chore.

There were other people to communicate with, so that’s what I did for the most part. We ordered our food, and everyone got to know each other. We were having typical, casual conversations. That’s when To Kill a Mockingbird came up. I had mentioned it while talking about work since a particular project revolved around it. I was in no way commenting on the book when I brought it up. It was merely a fact within the reality of my existence, and I presented it as such. Yet as soon as I said, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Anastaysia wrinkled her nose and asked, “To Kill a Mockingbird?” as though I had just suggested she try a slice of pineapple kangaroo pie. Despite how fun it sounds, you’d probably be disgusted if it were shoved in your face.

Now, for the record, I do in fact love To Kill a Mockingbird. However, I didn’t state this to begin with, so she had no reason to be turned off by me mentioning it. For all she knew, I was about to lay the smack down on Atticus Finch. If I didn’t have the benefit of the others in attendance as an audience, I wouldn’t have gone down the route I did. One on one with Anastaysia, I would have communicated with her, instead of at her. But what followed was a mock conversation that she didn’t realize was a joke.

“Yeah, To Kill a Mockingbird,” I responded. “It’s my favorite book.”

Still looking shocked by my obvious stupidity, she simply said, “To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book?” She acted in disbelief that anyone in the world could possibly consider To Kill a Mockingbird (A Pulitzer Prize winner, mind you) their favorite book.

Again, just playing with the ridiculous conversation her condescension had led us into, I said, “Well, to be fair, I’ve only read three books.”

Her high-brow response was, “You’ve only read three books?” with the same staccato cadence of her previous question.

She wasn’t giving me much to work with. It was like playing a game of Questions Only with someone who thought that meant just repeating everything I say as a question. So, I had to move this conversation along. “Yeah,” I answered. “To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm and Holes.”

She didn’t talk to anyone after that until just before the check arrived. She set down a couple of bucks and made some excuse about having to leave early to do something. (Probably to read!)

Book DefinitionClearly this chick hated me, and I don’t believe I gave her a reason to. Usually I do, so I don’t care so much when someone hates me. But this was completely uncalled for. Her only basis for hating me was that she couldn’t understand sarcasm and therefore believed I’d only read three books in my life. You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but apparently you can judge a person by how many books they’ve read. And that just seems silly to me. Despite her supposed literacy, judging from her witty banter, I’d have to assume that she’s not all that intelligent. So, a lot of good all that reading has done her.

Anyway, to get back on track, books are stupid.

We give them undue credit. As I mentioned, books are archaic. They’ve been around literally since the beginning of recorded history. We’ve made so many advancements since then. I thought that the audio book would have rendered them obsolete, yet they’re still chugging along. Now, as we live in the days of high-speed Internet making more video available than can be watched in a generation, books seem even more outdated. I understand writing as a necessary foundation for building a story, but you aren’t supposed to read Romeo and Juliet, for example. It’s a play because it’s so much more than a book could ever be. Yes, technically you can read it because it is written, but movies have scripts too. So why aren’t they literature?

If for some reason, reading is your thing, fine. I’m not one to stop a person from flying their freak flag. But I do take offense to people thinking that their freak flag should be the emblem of the world. That’s why it’s called a freak flag, because you’re the only freak that cares to wave it. Don’t go around generalizing “the book is always soooo much better than the movie”. If books were so awesome, why hasn’t Samuel L. Jackson starred in one? Exactly.

Samuel L. Jackson on a Plane

  • I should probably start off by saying that my undergraduate degree is in Literature, and I really – truly – love to read.  Incidentally, To Kill a Mockingbird is easily one of my favorite books, and if I could only ever read three, it would be one of the holy trinity.  On a related note, I do all of my reading at home…though I suppose my cat might regard me as pretentious. 

    That being said, I think you’re right.  As much as it pains me and saddens me, I think that film is the new literature, and that the study of fiction is quickly becoming passe.  As hard as it may be for us to grasp the concept today, much of Shelly’s poetry was actually social activism; today, we have Michael Moore accomplishing about the same thing on film.  Times are changing, and so are our means of expression.

    What I love the most about literature is social context.  Any book – all art, actually – is imbued with the values and experiences of its creator and reflects the zeitgeist of the period.  Perhaps moreso than literature in its strictest sense, I’m a fan of history and social commentary…and that’s why I read. 

    • See, a smart person saying I’m right.  I knew I was on to something.

      •  I’m so pleased that you think I’m smart.  Next, I’ll make you think I’m funny.

  • Anonymous

    Drivel.

    • If you were literate, you could have elaborated on that point.  

      • Samir

        I could’ve, but I’m not literate, and so I didn’t. Make a film for me instead.