On Reading and Pleasure

One of the unexpected side-benefits of the lighter posting schedule I have had to keep for the last month is that the amount of spam comments MontanaWriter receives has dropped considerably. I remain mystified by the whole spam-a-blog phenomenon… especially when the spam messages aren’t even in the same language as that of the blog.

A recent cool spell in the North Country has meant that we have been able to open our windows again. My two-job work schedule gives me little time to go outside but at least I can drive and sleep with the windows open again. I can breath clean air… and dream.

When I am home or have time to sit between jobs, I have been nibbling around the stack of books on my coffee table and Kindle. A bite of poetry here, a chapter or two of a western there, a blog article for dessert. It is not my preferred reading schedule, but it is the one I can manage.

My daughters will tell you that I have little time or patience for television… or even movies for the most part. It is something I inherited from my mother and my father. My mother watched little tv at all and only went to two movies that I can remember, Godfather and Godfather 2. My father for the most part preferred to watch sports.

Books have always been my drug of choice… books and beer and bourbon. It is difficult to imagine a satisfying time in life without at least one of the three at my elbow. All three at the same time would mean I am on vacation.

One of the books I have been nibbling through on my Kindle (and my Kindle iPhone app) is Michael Chabon’s “Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands” In his introduction to the book of essays, Chabon claims that many writers and literary critics have forgotten that above all else reading is “entertainment” in the same way that movies and sports are.  The word entertainmentthough has such bad connotations for intellectuals and academics that no one wants to use it to describe something as serious as “real literature.” Entertainment belongs to video games and soap operas and genre fiction.

While I am admittedly a bit discomforted by the word entertainment, regular readers of MontanaWriter know that I share Chabon’s impatience with those who insist on anachronistic literary distinctions. Good writing is good writing. Good storytelling is good storytelling.

What Chabon terms entertainment, I have tended to call enjoymentand pleasure, believing these words to express more fully a depth not usually associated today with the world entertain. In the end it is the same. We read books, we watch baseball and the NBA finals, we listen to Coltrane and the Clash and George Jones, we sip whiskey and and drink cold beer ultimately for pleasure. For enjoyment.

There should be no shame in the artistic world to admitting such a thing. And yet Chabon reminds us that there is. But as W.H. Auden wrote, “Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” And who are we  to argue with Auden.


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