Monday, January 19, 2009

Like the chicken pox, getting infected by the desire to read is best when it hits us early. As a child I was so committed to "Charlotte's Web" that I pleaded for, and received, a pig for my ninth birthday, a gift that segued nicely into my "Little House on the Prairie" obsession. Was I, with my American classics, more noble than today's middle-schooler who reads and rereads his copy of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"? Was I less noble than my straight-A sister who read "Le Petit Prince" in French? No on both counts. I am a firm believer in the fact that it isn't so much what you read, it's that you read. Reading fiction not only develops our imagination and creativity, it gives us the skills to be alone. It gives us the ability to feel empathy for people we've never met, living lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves, because the book puts us inside the character's skin. Whether you're in the life of Wilbur the pig, or Greg Heffley, the wimpy kid, or that little blonde prince in the desert, you've stepped outside of yourself for awhile, something that is beneficial to every child. Even if you're stepping into "Valley of the Dolls," it's better than nothing. I'm all for reading bad books because I consider them to be a gateway drug. People who read bad books now may or may not read better books in the future. People who read nothing now will read nothing in the future.

--Ann Patchett, The Triumph of the Readers


  1. Yeah! I'm mildly disturbed that Ann Patchet, a self-indulgent writer I don't like much, has put this so well.

  2. This is precisely why I have an (almost) absolute pleasure principle about books. If people like books I despise or find trashy, more power to them; at least they are entering someone else's mind and soul for a while, which is more than millions ever do. Let them do it.

    I wonder, though, whether this ought to be absolute. Are there books so hateful that reading nothing at all would be better?

  3. Hmmm. I'll have to think about that for awhile. Could someone slip into another skin so odious that they lose their way back? I suppose lots of excessively religious folk find perspectives other than their own too hateful to permit their children experiencing through their reading.

    And Jeanne: are you alluding to the book about Lucy Grealy? I haven't read any Patchett since then.

  4. Yes, the book about Lucy and also the whole academic-job-on-the-side writer's workshop author persona.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.