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Tuesday, September 13, 2005


After spending way too many years feeling vaguely guilty and inferior for not reading enough, I've finally come to a realization. The reason I never developed a great love for reading is that so many books are crap. Writing a book is a challenging task... So my guess is that most writers fall back on the same formulaic techniques that network television uses. And, in the same way that watching too much TV is a bad thing, reading all these books also turns your mind into mush. I'm not interested in programming my brain to believe that problems all have tidy solutions or that life is filled with a few three dimensional main characters and a lot of two dimensional background.

Of course, there are many great books out there... And some of the greatest things one can learn can only be found in literature, but let's be honest about what is it that we're actually reading? Were you more likely to have read Gravity's Rainbow or Harry Potter last week? And argue all you want, reading Harry Potter is no better than watching a marathon of Welcome Back Kotter! I will say that readers, by and large, spell better and understand punctuation and grammar better than us non-reader types. Lucky you.

As I enter into a new phase of my life--a phase during which I have pledged not to read a single book--I can't help but look back on my life as a reader. The book I have the greatest respect for was The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment. Prolly cuz it sums everything up in like 65 pages. _Rants

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At 9/14/2005 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey genius - it's "Kotter" with a "K."

*K* as in KING! Not *C* as in CRAP.

You've obviously wasted your life reading books, haven't watched enough television, and have no business writing such articles.


At 9/14/2005 03:37:00 PM, Blogger Ned said...

Even readers like me might be wont to write: "We're you more likely to have read Gravity's Rainbow or Harry Potter last week?" Oddly enough, incidence of such things, or at least noticing of such, has increased in proportion to time spent teaching English, even though this is a mistake that students would probably never make.

Having said all that nothing, I will just add that as a reader who does not have time to read for pleasure, I do not, and probably never will, understand non-readers. I physically crave settling down with a nice book that doesn't have "text" in the title. REading is so natural to me that I can't imaging going anywhere where I might have a mo' without a book or at least a magazine.

At 9/14/2005 08:10:00 PM, Blogger diane said...

I'm a reader, yet have not read any Harry Potter or "Gravity's Rainbow". In fact, I had to look up the later title on the lit net to discover it was written by Thomas Pynchon, an author whom I have never read.

I think reading books is a lot like watching movies in that you have to wade through a lot of crap to find the good stuff (a point you alluded to John). Appararently reading is not your preferred medium, though that confuses me some since you are so verbal, are a very good writer and love to engage in word games and puzzles.

Perhaps you should focus on short stories (now there's a literary challenge: writing a good short story is I think 1000 times more difficult that writing a good novel). One of the most poignent and illuminating modern pieces I have ever read is a 5-page story by Robert Boswell. It's like the way an amazing 4 minute song can capture and connect with you, so why do you need to listen to an entire symphony?

Then again, there are a lot of crappy short stories and songs out there. For me it's the adventure of finding the good stuff and feeling pleased and rewarded when I do. Much as I click the dial when I can't stand the song and look for a better track, I never hesitate to close the book, return it to the library and bring home future hopefulls. Crap has yet to kill my curiosity: why else do I continue to see opening night blockbusters with you and Soapy?

At 9/14/2005 08:13:00 PM, Blogger walaka said...

Hmmm... I thought I posted a bon mot earlier, but it's not here, and the moment has passed.

At 9/14/2005 10:13:00 PM, Blogger Jon said...

A lot of books are crap - so don't read them - or if you start reading them, stop and don't read any more. Then you'll have more time to find and finish the books you don't think are crap.

At 9/15/2005 10:09:00 AM, Blogger Ned said...

We readers are a zealous, evangelical lot: we all want to convet you! Hear the word of truth, my son.

At 9/15/2005 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

You know, I asked Soapy the other day why he didn't comment on my grunge retrospective piece. He said, "I know bait when I see it."

Anyway... it's nice that you've all chimed in. I was beginning to think no one was reading out there.

At 9/15/2005 10:29:00 AM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Special thanks to Neds and Soapy for being the first two cheese-eaters. I've corrected the "mistakes" that you pointed out.
And to prevent further biblio-evangelism... please note the title of the post. "Rationalized" is meant to convey to the reader that I'm aware that my arguments are not valid. My article should be seen therefore as totally ironical and such.

At 9/15/2005 01:05:00 PM, Blogger Ned said...

I don't think you need to rationalize not reading, I just think you're crazy for not living for it!

At 9/15/2005 01:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9/15/2005 02:30:00 PM, Blogger walaka said...

[Roxanne Kowalski is walking behind a hedge because she is nude]
Roxanne: Nobody had a coat?
C.D.: I thought you said you didn't want a coat...
Roxanne: Why would I not want a coat?
C.D.: You said you didn't want a coat!
Roxanne: I was being ironic.
C.D.: Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don't get that here. See, uh, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony's not really a, a high priority. We haven't had any irony here since about, uh, '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at.

One of my favorite scenes ever.

At 9/16/2005 02:18:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tsk, tsk, tsk Johnbai, sometimes when I read your blog I’m not sure if you’re looking for attention or trying to spark meaningful dialogue, but wait a minute, since you aren’t very well read the chances you’re trying to spark meaningful dialogue are probably nonexistent. So, I guess I’m not going to comment on your choice not to read or attempt at being ironic, but let me know how that works for you though.

“Irony is the gaiety of reflection and the joy of wisdom.”

~Anatole France~

Except in this case.

At 9/16/2005 02:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring it on, boy! Reading is for pansy boys and wussy eggheads. Besides, look at me--I ain't never done read nothing, and I'm the doggone Preznit! Yeeeeeeehaw!

Reading and spelling and UN conferences is for SUCKERS.

At 9/16/2005 02:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now THAT'S a lot of shit to wade through! Give me Harry Potter any time.

At 9/16/2005 03:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here’s to illiteracy, here's to ignorance and sloth, here's to pointless irony, stupid presidents, and bored social workers, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!

"The jails are full of one million non-readers. We can't let it happen again. If you allow another generation to grow up to be 12 years old... without the ability to read, write, and think, we're sunk. If they can't read, if they can't write, if they can't think, they become criminals. We've already lost two generations. Unless we teach reading intensely and completely in kindergarten and first grade, the whole civilization goes to hell."

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

~Ray Bradbury~

At 9/16/2005 06:24:00 PM, Blogger Ned said...

I don't know who you are, anonymous, but I likes yer quotes!

At 9/16/2005 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Anonymous gives his identity away by posting increasingly fascist remarks. #1 It is impossible that I could be attempting to spark meaningful dialogue because I don't READ. #2 Irony is usually great, but not in this case (I guess because someone who doesn't like to read attempted it.) #3 my irony is now "pointless" and lumped in with ignorance, sloth and stupid presidents. #4 My decision to not read is now an even worse crime than BURNING BOOKS... and finally #5 By not reading I'm DESTROYING OUR CULTURE.
The sad thing is that you are NOT being ironic. Clay, I'm taking away your hyperbole license until you publically admit that you are a big fascist who cannot tolerate diversity of opinion. Well, okay, not really. Keep your license. ;)

At 9/16/2005 07:06:00 PM, Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

I don't know if the discussion this post provoked was "meaningful" but it was certainly more "entertaining" than the comments from my last few posts.

At 9/16/2005 08:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dare I tsk again, well, okay? Tsk, tsk, tsk said the mad hatter madly. #1 I didn’t know you had to read to be ironic. As far as I know you don’t have to read to be president either. #2 True, irony is great, it’s just that if you’re attempting it you shouldn’t be so obvious. Also, the fact that you don’t read is something I blame on the educational system. They’re so worried about the blacks slipping through the cracks that they don’t see all the little white Johnbai’s falling through too. #3 Don’t forget you were lumped in with bored social workers too. Nothing in that category was “pointless,” just really fucking annoying. #4 True again, your decision to not read is worse than burning books, but pointless irony is even worse still, I would compare it to outlawing condoms. #5 No Johnbai, you’re not destroying our culture by not reading; you’re destroying our culture by being so insecure about it.

I hate political affiliations especially those given to me by (not very confident) white males. Fascist? You use that word as easily as I use the word pointless; it sort of makes me wonder if you really know what it means, after all, remember that you don’t read?

"Friendship is often destroyed by opposition of interest, not only by the ponderous and visible interest which the desire of wealth and greatness forms and maintains, but by a thousand secret and slight competitions, scarcely known to the mind upon which they operate. There is scarcely any man without some favourite trifle which he values above greater attainments, some desire of petty praise which he cannot patiently suffer to be frustrated. This minute ambition is sometimes crossed before it is known, and sometimes defeated by wanton petulance; but such attacks are seldom made without the loss of friendship; for, whoever has once found the vulnerable part will always be feared, and the resentment will burn on in secret, of which shame hinders the discovery."

~Samuel Johnson~

At 9/23/2005 06:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is one of the most awesome quotes I have ever read.

I mean, I hate that he discovered that detail about people and I resent him in secret for pointing it out!


At 9/25/2005 10:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9/27/2005 10:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not?

At 9/27/2005 10:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shmigga ligga hodge podge
brickabrack sliver
heebie jeebie chuckanut
ready to deliver

At 9/27/2005 01:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9/27/2005 03:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys are all crazy

At 9/27/2005 03:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But we don't have names!

At 9/27/2005 05:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do, they call me "Black Heat."

"We are all crazy, but those that analyze their craziness are called philosophers”


At 10/01/2005 01:49:00 AM, Blogger Beth Danae said...

i agree good books are hard to come by... I stopped reading books in high school when I no longer appreciated Sweet Valley High and crap like that. There are no good books for adults, though I'll make an exception for JOhn Grishams and some educational books...

I think Tom Clancy and Dan Brown are horrible writers, I DONT GET why people buy their books.

At 10/03/2005 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course there are good books for adults out there, yes, yes, yes… Good books aren't necessarily hard to come by but difficult to get through. Many people find themselves intimidated by great literature and as a result think that such works are inaccessible and opt for work they believe is more easily digestible or entertaining. There's nothing wrong with being entertained per se but in my opinion literature should be both honest and capable of raising us to a higher level of awareness. The publishing industry is mainly concerned with what’s popular and how they can clone it, and then clone those clones, which is why there is so much crappy material available. Here's a list of a few “adult” books that might be worth checking out.

1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
13. 1984 by George Orwell
14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James
27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald
30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford
31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser
34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
36. ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence
49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence
50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller

“What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.”

~E.M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951~

“The duty of literature is to note what counts, and to light up what is suited to the light. If it ceases to choose and to love, it becomes like a woman who gives herself without preference.”

~Anatole France~

Happy reading!


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