Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why I read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser

First impression

On my first shopping spree at Book Outlet I saw this book; I liked the cover and the premise seemed interesting. Wendy Lesser is a critic, a novelist and also an editor so it was appealing to me to hear, or rather read, in the words of someone who is so into the field that is reading, why reading is such a pleasure and I will admit I was curious to see if we had similar points. From the beginning of the book I realised this was more about the serious part rather than the pleasure part, or at least that is what the book made me feel. From sentences such us "real literature" and "[…]to refer repeatedly to murder mysteries, a notoriously trashy form" to afirmations that frankly let me feeling (and I realize this is completely subjective) like the author was disapproving of my reading, I just couldn't find joy in this book.

Final thoughts

I will be honest: every time I thought about writing this review I cringed remembering how I felt reading the book. It read to me like a highbrow lecture that made me feel inadequate with my reading. I am not saying off course that this was in any way the intention of the author; I am just telling you how the speech in the book affected me.

From the beginning, when she used sentences such "real literature" it stroke me as disdain of some sort, disapproval of genres and even of certain readers and while I can be as much as a book as anyone, this just felt wrong. Then there was the situation with the examples she uses to show the alleged pleasure for the first chapter I could not recognize the books or for that matter the authors she was citing. This, I know, is my problem, not hers. Probably I would recognize authors that she wouldn't, and that's ok. But when in all of her examples there is not a single one you recognize, engaging with the book and saying:"Ah yes, I see what your point Mrs. Lesser". If you compare it with What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund you might see what I mean with this. I have never read Anna Karenina, but being such a wide known book I knew and understood what the author meant; this was impossible for me with Lesser's book.

Even in cases where I had read the book or at least part of it, this understanding of the author was not there. For example I tried to read Don Quixote (in Spanish mind you) I made it to chapter 12 I think where he starts having a monologue with rocks, once Sancho Panza has left him alone. I just couldn't go on; there was no pleasure for me reading it. I made it through Swann's Way and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower but after that I no longer engaged in Proust's work. But even then, when she did use these books at examples I just couldn't see what she was pointing out in them and I would end up with the horrible feeling that it was my fault.

One thing we did agree on was translations and their effects on the reader. I am one of those people that would love to read all her books in the original language, but then again, I am not going to learn Swedish any time soon guys and my German won't allow me to read The Never ending Story any time soon, even if it is a book I already read. So it is important to find someone who manages not only to translate the sentence but the meaning of the sentence, and of course this is hard to do.

I was sad at the end, because I had very high expectations for the book, but it was just not for me.

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