I had an epiphany this morning, and I urgently need to share it with you. It’s about Bloody Bloom (should we start code-naming him the Scarlet Pimpernel?). I finally figured why I can’t stand the man.
Bloom answers the question of How to read, and why. His “why” clearly refers to the how. It is not “How to read, and why read” but “how to read, and why read that way”. A construction which is only possible if you suppose a supreme goal of reading (to be educated, perhaps?), which brings with it one ultimate method (how it must be done) – and then defends its merits (why the method is the right method).
Personally, I think a much more relevant proposition would be why read, and how. There are a number of different reasons for reading, and each reason much bring with it its own approach.
So instead of one correct way of reading that must then be justified (Bloom) we have many possible reasons for reading, and alas, many possibly legitimate ways of approaching the text (Rose). To name just a few cases:
Reading for the betterment of one’s soul
Reading for the deterioration of that same soul
Reading to confirm an idea
Reading to escape reality
Reading as fodder for conversation with others
Reading as a guilty pleasure (best done within reach of a packet of hob-nobs)
It stands to reason these different goals only may require different reading material, but must require different conducts when in proximity to the book.
Take Hardy for instance. A Pair of Blue Eyes (generally considered quality literature) might be read with the end goal of escaping the present and living for a few blissful moments in a world of clearer air and better morals (escapist reading). It may be read because it is one of those books which educated people are supposed to have read (conversation-fodder reading). It might be read over and over again, for example, every time the reader has a cold (guilty pleasure reading).
Now take another book, of another order, a P D James for instance, like Death in Holy Orders. As genre fiction, naturally considered less important a work of literature than A Pair of Blue Eyes. It may still be approached in the same manners as above: escapism (into a world where justice is served), as a conversation piece (being a popular work which might be discussed with a large acquaintance) or guilty pleasure (guilty because it is a detective story, pleasure because it is semi-well crafted).
And there you have it: two very different books read in different manners produce the same effect on the reader. One text will serve many different purposes as long as the manner of reading is adjusted to suit the situation.
Parenthesis: Have you read Death in Holy Orders?? And if you haven’t, do you mind if I spoil it for you? It is a well enough piece of detective fiction I suppose, except for one thing. NO LESS THAN THREE WIDOWERS in the same story!! Every time the author aims at some sort of deeper characterization of her male subjects she throws a dead spouse in the mix. Some tragically dead, some purposely dead but still… A substitute title could be Death in Holy Matrimony.
Anyhow: now all that is left is to figure out why we are to read Parade’s end, and we might stumble on a how to get through it… Any thoughts?
With my very best wished for the week-end