Conor Burnett defends literature from its egghead stigma, recommends books that entertain.
“Odds are, if you’re on this blog you like reading and writing a lot. This post is not for you. Though you totally can still read it. Please read it.”
Odds are, if you’re on this blog you like reading and writing a lot. This post is not for you. Though you totally can still read it. Please read it.
I read. I read well. But I’m not well-read. I can power through a million books a month, but I still have trouble getting interested in the books that are generally perceived to be important, or intelligent. I read a lot, not to absorb information, or to enlighten myself, or to show off. I read because books are a form of entertainment. And people don’t seem to remember that.
Books are good. There is nothing wrong with books. But dozens of my friends haven’t read a book since high school. Hell, one of my friends hasn’t read a book since 9th grade, and he managed to stay in Honors English for the entire rest of high school
Now, to me, the stigma involved with books stems from the fact that we use them so often in classrooms, and libraries, that they catch a bad reputation by association. People associate books with being forced to sit down, and choke through a terrible one for a class you don’t want to be a part of in the first place. Teachers cramming books into your brainhole day in and day out, 6 or 7 periods a day, is draining. What people forget is that being force-fed anything sucks. Doing something against your will is the absolute worst. Plenty of times I quit things I genuinely liked because my life was over-saturated with it. I used to absolutely love playing basketball. After a year of playing Junior Varsity, on a team that won two games (they were our first two games, we thought we were going to be unbeatable) and for a coach that made us practice every day, even over winter break, I no longer enjoyed basketball. So I joined the school play, because I liked to perform for people too. Except the exact same thing happened: they drilled acting and performing into us literally 7 days a week, and it made me absolutely hate the school plays.
Now, with some distance between me and my days as the starting center on an absolutely terrible JV team, I can safely say that once again I enjoy basketball. Mr. Steeves is no longer riding me to get plays right, and to “not to be afraid to use my body when grabbing a board.”
This is all a huge round about way of saying this: just because we were force-fed books for years, doesn’t mean that they’re something that we should permanently ditch when we can. Your crappy high school English teacher made you read 5 books a marking period, and set all these crazy deadlines, and assigned unimaginative projects. I swear, I won’t do that.
The cliche goes that “high school was like a jail.” My blog posts are going to be the halfway house between said jail and the Real World. I’m going to suggest books that shoot the gap between entertaining and intelligent. And remain calm: there aren’t any dead-lines, you don’t have to write a paper, you don’t have to do anything other than sit back and read. I don’t expect anything out of you, friend. No pressure.
Short stories are the perfect starting point for what I am trying to accomplish, here. I’m treating you as a skittish animal. I’m trying to lure you over to my side, and if I make any large sudden movements or chuck “War and Peace” at you, this entire thing will be for naught.
That said, the book I suggest you read is CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Rather than subject you to a long diatribe as to why I think it’s brilliant, I’ll sum things up fairly quickly. George Saunders wrote a book of short stories. Because George Saunders is good at what he does, this book is simultaneously intelligent, funny, and easy to read. And above all, the stories are entertaining.
I didn’t hear about this book through a literary magazine, or a book reading, or from an English Professor. I read an interview with Ben Stiller where he talks about how he’s been fighting for years to adapt the titular story into a movie. If you can’t trust me, trust Ben Stiller. If you can’t trust Ben Stiller, may God have mercy on your soul.