Monday, 1 April 2013

Reading for pleasure or stimulation?

Carlisle Castle
There are various schools of thought on books and reading. Some say that in order to be good, a fiction book must make its reader think, give intellectual satisfaction, perhaps even educate.
Others think that if a book entertains its reader, stirs the imagination, engages the mind, that is enough. Certainly a book of any kind is a God send during a sleepless night or a boring journey. I'm of the school that says reading anything sharpens judgement and thus enriches the experience of life. Stories can provide a feast of the senses without being intellectually stimulating - Fifty Shades of Grey may qualify for this - and it is possible to read it, enjoy it and almost  automatically critique it at the same time. The book is of its time, and perhaps that is all we need say of it in these sex saturated times. Perhaps poetry provides the richest sensory feast. Kathleen Raine's has stayed with me since I read it in my twenties and still gives me pleasure.
I sometimes wonder why certain stories become classics. I read The Woman in White not long ago and found it overlong, wordy and decidedly strange. The premise is fine and perhaps in a time without radio, television and film, such lengthy, slow-moving books were acceptable, even desirable. In today's world, with our eyes, ears and brains attuned to faster rhythms, I flicked through pages positively aching for the story to move on. I never finished The Moonstone because I lost my grip on the story and turned to something more modern.
 Some readers adore detail, facts, arcane theories and lucsious descriptions while others plunder the book for the story. Writers these days are warned to avoid the dreaded info dump for fear of boring the reader. Yet we are all encouraged to read the classics, where info dumps abound. Who is to say which style is right and which is wrong? Easier by far and more gracious to agree that different tastes abound and that every book will find a reader. Yes, even The Moonstone!

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