Monday, September 13, 2010

A Libris

In Rus' latest blog on litrashur reminded me that while many people know their minds, some are liberal, or to use an older term, catholic in their approach and some are narrowly focused and project bad qualities on that which does not appeal to them.

Is the difference education, which, like travel, generally broadens minds and moderates black-and-white (non)thinking? Sometimes, but there are far too many reasonably intelligent and educated dogmatists. I think it's just personality type; whichever path you travel in life, upwards, backwards or sideways, you end up pretty much the same, inside, as when you started. It's your choices along the way that result in your becoming older and a little wiser or older, meaner and dumber.
Does everything have some value to someone out there? I'm thinking of the overwhelming preponderance of romance and thriller novels in the mass marketplace -- that's all you see at the discount store, grocery, drugstore, and it makes up the bulk of circulation at libraries. In the yin and yang balance between what is good/worthwhile and what people "like," I think this dominating component of current literature resides on the negative side of the value meter. Not that anything should, or could, be done about it; it suits the majority of the personality types and you might as well rail against the excessive amount of rock in the earth's surface.
You might be concerned when the meter moves from harmless time-wasting reading to lies and propaganda. Think of the media campaigns of the communists, fascists, and the McCarthyites. Imbibing 150 volumes of Danielle Steel will just soften your brain, but taking Mein Kampf or John Birch Society publications or Ayn Rand seriously can and will result in misery and destruction for millions of others.
We have, as I've mentioned, a big beautiful new library in Camp Hill. There is a section up front of several long shelf units of new books, which is usually as disappointing as receiving underwear for your birthday. I move through different genres as the years go by (not romance or thriller, at least not yet), and right now I'm into memoir/autobiography. Imagine my delight at finding both Patti Smith's and Rosanne Cash's new volumes yesterday -- the subgenre of artists' life stories has been a favorite for a while now. Despite the reduction of the county library system's budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars this year and the last, the director of this branch continues to purchase every right-wing screed that becomes available. Think of all the worthwhile volumes that don't show up on the shelves while she pursues this personal agenda -- justified, I'll bet, by the old excuse "that's what the public wants." And some of the public does: Camp Hill is no San Francisco, believe me. But the outrageousness of some of the new titles makes that argument look convenient and weak: "How The Environmentalists are Destroying America," "How the Left Swiftboated America," (what???) "The Liberal War on Talk Radio." This is toxic mold, not just a little unsightly dust.
Just because a sizable majority likes something doesn't mean it is good or bad. 1 million murdering Mongols on the horizon can be wrong. The crowd has wisdom, and it has destructive craziness too. We can live with lots of bad taste --sometimes it is amusing or a guilty pleasure -- but we need the freedom to live better, according to our own lights, with some quality choices. The danger is not the preponderance of dreck, it's the possibility that choice can be taken away in the name of some fevered dogma.


  1. Before there were the "Classics" then came the publishing rush filling a void, now everyone can write whatever they want and download rather than own a printed collection. Save the trees, but too many choices.
    Like movies, if you don't get caught immediately, turn it off. We waste too much time on trash, in hopes one will become a "Classic".

  2. Dune, The Fountainhead, the original Sherlock Holmes books, Twain, many books and authors that I have tried to read, that are proclaimed as wonderful, but do nothing for me whatsoever. Like musical choices, reading books is 100% personal. There will always be critics who say Stephen King is bad but Jonathan Franzen is good -- and they're right. But only for them. Books, music -- it's just like wine. You're supposed to drink white with seafood and red with meat; but the fact is, you should drink whatever you like.

  3. I forgot to include a shout-out to your preference for a good story, Rus: when I found Stevenson's "Black Arrow" on the high school library shelves, it changed things forever. And Thomas Costain's forgotten historical tomes, like "Darkness and the Dawn." Like when you heard "Blonde on Blonde" or "Beggars Banquet" -- it grabs you forever. To be a writer or artist like that...

  4. Try Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" or Winston Churchill's "Man Overboard". Pure story. Churchill:

  5. You know I had to check this out, not having heard of any fiction by Winston Churchill before. OK, so there were two of them, on opposite sides of the Atlantic!
    Can't you see Alfred Hitchcock doing this story on his great television show?