Reading books because they’re good for you: literature vs. fluff…

I had a lousy commute this morning.  The blue line train was delayed, the yellow line train “broke” and had to be “offloaded.” And then the book I was reading took a turn into boringness.  So I did something I don’t often do in less distracting circumstances – I dropped it.  So long, Jane Smiley, hello, Tiger’s Curse.  Somehow the rest of my commute went by more quickly after that.

The question of when to give up on a book is a tough one.  Too many books, too little time to read something boring.  And with a Kindle, I always have four or five books ready to read so it’s easier to switch.  But sometimes I’ve found you need to push through and then a book gets really good.

Which leads to a bigger issue for me, which is “book guilt” – do I read enough literature? History, political analysis, biography? Or conversely, do I read too much “fluff”?  And if so, should I care?

With the Kindle is no one can judge me by the cover of my book.  Maybe I shouldn’t care.  But I do.

When I was in school some fourteen years ago this never occurred to me.  In college I was a lit major, and in law school, I carried around 20 pound texts and spent my days in the library.  These days, I lean towards werewolf fiction and mystery series.  I do try to mix it up, so I don’t overload on any one genre.  Still, at the end of a long day of work, it’s a lot easier to reach for something, well, easy.

And yet, some of the authors that have been most memorable, and most influential in my life, are the classics – Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, to name a few.  Books I might not have read if I didn’t have to.

There’s a reason these authors are loved – they move us; they change the way we think about ourselves; they inform us about our world; and still they entertain.

At the same time, “fluff” is a subjective term.  There are great, wonderfully written works of fantasy, science fiction, children’s books – and there are books that end up on the New York Times “best of the year” lists that I despised (Prep comes to mind).  It’s not the genre.  And reading books that are brain-candy can be fun (and necessary) at times.  But still, I think it’s important to read things that challenge us.

At least for me.  I won’t make that judgment for anyone else.  But what do you think?  Do you read books because they are “good for you”?

  3 comments for “Reading books because they’re good for you: literature vs. fluff…

  1. Helen Smith
    June 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Switching books mid-commute is one of the joysof the kindle. There’s nothing worse than sticking with a book out of duty – except, perhaps, because you didn’t bring anything else to read!

    Glad to have found you – it was via Book Blogs, by the way.

  2. June 30, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Interesting post.

    I do try to branch out and read classics once and a while. Sometimes those books turn out to be terrific. Other times I can barely make it through the book.

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