Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gourmet v. Glutton

Today I had a discussion with a friend about varying qualities of literature, and it has left me with many thoughts (thus: three posts this week, instead of two). I'd like to hear your opinions, also.

My friend asked me what my favorite books are. I said that while Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) has influenced me more than any other book I've read, I also enjoy reading children's fantasy books - which my friend promptly decried as pulp fiction.

Fair enough: while I found Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (James Rollins) a diverting read, it was not particularly nutritious to my intellect, not in the way that a literary book - I forget what example my friend cited, but it was one of those books that you assume only smart people read - might.

Me: "The percentage of high literature I've read is probably close to five."

My friend: "You read that much junk?!"

At which point I said that books are not divided into solely categories of high literature/the classics (which, for our discussion, we defined as books that have scholarly commentary/analysis) and junk.

For example: good books that do not have dissertations written about them; nonfiction; complex genre fiction. From the standpoint of someone who only reads classics, yes, the other stuff may all look like junk - just as someone who eats only food prepared by a highly-trained chef will not know about quality fare produced with fewer credentials.

Both my friend and my sister have said to me that they don't want to waste their time on books they don't know will be good. Hence, the disdain of non-literary books.

I have a different perspective, in part because reading is my recreation (instead of watching movies/TV or...or...what else do people do in their down time?) and in part because I am a writer, and perhaps the only "rule of writing" on which there is consensus is that to write, you must first read.

Reading gluttons, like me, read because we like reading. I could defend my affinity for action/adventure books by saying that they teach me about form/narration/characterization/&c, but really, when I read a book that boys in my grade venerated five years ago, I read it for the simple reason that I want to find out what happens next.

Reading gourmets, like my friend, read in order to, I'm hypothesizing, have the experience of enjoying something well put together, or to broaden their intellect.

If it sounds as though I am judging the gourmets - I'm not, at least no more than they judge us gluttons. They wish to read, but they do not wish to read anything but the best. It's a better reason to read the classics than for status -

(I always favor doing things for yourself over doing things for others.)

- and at least they read. But I cannot pretend that it does not irk me when the guy eating caviar looks askance at my Costco sushi.


  1. if i had to consider myself one or the other i'd surely be a glutton, but alas i don't read that much. if indeed i do read i usually go for fantasy, and most of the times it's young adults or sraight out children's. I think that when one reads he/she should read whatever they 'feel like' reading, whatever gives them pleasure and stimulates their mind and thought. If that is classics (not because then you can appear super smart by quoting this or that but because you actually LIKE like them) then classics it is, and the same goes for anything else.

    Slightly off topic, book suggestion: i don't read many classics anymore (i hardly read my 'glutton' books anymore) but my favourite book still remains (along with the HP series) a fantastic classic of italian literature, it is called 'one, no-one, and one hundred thousands' by luigi pirandello. check it out if you can it's great! it's mind tripping!

    1. Yes. Read what you like!

      Ooh, that book is at my library. I shall be sure to read it - though, given the mass of books I have at home that I haven't read, it might take me a while. A glutton's problem, to be sure. :)

    2. Sure i get what you mean!! i'll tell you what it is about so you can decide if you even *want to* check it out in the future. basically it is about a guy who one day in his adult life discovers he has a slightly crooked nose, his wife makes him notice. From there it's the biggest brain trip ever, he starts thinking "well if i hadn't noticed that about myself what else may i have missed? who am i really? i thought i was someone with a straight nose, i've thought that for decades, but i never was that for my wife, and i actually am not, am i someone different for every person who knows me? am i one or one hundred thousand for the one hundred thousand people who know me? who am i really? who is the *real* me? is there even a *real* me? or is it all relative on the point of view? am i no-one real at all?"

      so if you are into this sort of thing - i totally am, but maybe jumping from fantasy to this can be super boring and i don't know what your tastes are..if you like what in italian we call these 'seghe mentali' (don't repeat that in class, it is partly a cussword...literally it means 'mental wank' which refers to the action of musing over the same thing over and over again usually to no avail, and what's better than musing about the sense of identity) well, that's your book!

    3. I think it sounds very interesting. Is this what is considered an existential problem?

    4. Oh yes, i think the main character goes through what i daresay is a proper existential crisis. If you'll ever check it out in the future let me know what you think about it. Have a nice rest of the day! --i can see from the comment that it is the middle of the afternoon there...i'm just going to bed now though cause over here it's 2 a.m.:)