Saturday, November 19, 2011

Well Rounded Readers and Watchers

I was partaking of my New York Times last Friday, when I came across the op-ed "The Inequality Map" by, op-ed columnist, David Brooks. The column attempted to define which types of inequality people can legitimately feel superior about (fitness, Ivy League education, technological prowess, etc...) and types which are unacceptable to brag about (religious differences, ancestors' accomplishments, mass spending...).

About half way through the piece, I came across the passage, "Cultural inequality is unacceptable. If you are the sort of person who attends opera or enjoys Ibsen plays, it is not acceptable to believe that you have a more refined sensibility than people who like Lady Gaga, Ke$ha or graffiti."

The simply stated idea gave me pause, because it's an issue I find myself wrestling with, not so much with music as with movies and books. When it comes to movies, I sometimes find myself frustrated by friends who seek out, what I consider to be, high school caliber comedies such as Superbad and The School of Rock, but who are bored by The Godfather, The Bridge Over The River Kwai, and Casablanca. I snobbishly look at these people and think, "when will you grow up?"

Yet, I find I'm exactly the opposite when it comes to books. This year, I gave myself the goal to read one book from an "important author" each month. I've done so, because I feel it's important to expose myself to schools of thought which have shaped our world. While I've enjoyed; A Tale of Two Cities, In The Garden of Beasts, and a few others; I must confess that I'd rather read an exciting genre piece from Robert B. Parker than a story about the religious feast of Epiphany, at the home of Julia and Kate Morkan (James Joyce's "The Dead").

According to, literary critic, Maureen Corrigan, the newest notable literary work, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, is a work of "spinning-one's-wheels-in-the-sand fiction," without a plot and, "too ironic and intellectual to be the kind of novel that really moves readers." While she was able to appreciate, "the fluidity of Lerner's words and the wit of his musings," I need a plot to hold my interest.

Truth be told, just as I favor genre novels to serious literature, I have to admit to a level of hypocrisy regarding my movie snobbery. While I got a lot out of The Weather Man, and I really want to see J. Edgar, I also own every 007 movie and I'm the first one in the theater when a new comic book or Star Trek movie comes out.

I think Brooks' original statement holds up, but only partially. There's nothing particularly low-brow about enjoying genre fiction or seeing blockbusters. However, limiting yourself to ONLY those offerings is analogous to limiting oneself to a diet of desserts. For example, Parker's most frequently penned hero, Spenser, often spouts the quote, "Death is the mother of beauty." Unless a reader is motivated to partake of offerings other than the currently popular ones, the reader isn't going to know the quote comes from Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning, and won't understand what's being said.

Of course, limiting oneself to ONLY "important works," is also a form of limiting oneself. Personally, I don't find much value in watching a ninety minute depiction of teeny boppers trying to score beer and get laid. Nevertheless, I find people who can discuss Shakespeare, and who know the origin of, "Live long and prosper," to be much more well rounded than those are well versed in ONLY one style of fiction OR the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment