Thursday, August 24, 2006

How to look like an intellectual

This morning Galleycat's Sarah Weinman posted the following:

Say you're on vacation, and you bring along some books to read. Chances are they're on the fluffy side (unless you're an author answering those "summer reading" Q&As in newspapers and you have to prove your bogus intellectual worth and lie, lie, lie) and further chances are that once you're finished reading, you don't want to take them home. So what are those books?

Forget the books for a minute. Let's get back to that part about people wanting to prove their intellectual worth.

Why is it not okay to read books for sheer, mindless entertainment? Why are so many people eager to be seen reading "important" books, and why do they pretend never to read "fluffy" ones? Yeah, I get that insecurity drives some people to prove their intellectual worth by lie, lie, lying their silly heads off about what they read. What I don't get is why those individuals haven't noticed that just like the rest of us, bona-fide intellectuals will, from time to time, actually read the backs of cereal boxes or laugh when someone slips on a banana peel.

A few intellectuals even read my fluffy little blog, and some have actually linked here, proving they aren't afraid to admit enjoying the occasional lowbrow diversion. So here's a tip for those of you who lie about the books you do and do not read: When you sniff and insist that certain kinds of books are too "fluffy" for your refined tastes, you don't look like an intellectual, but like somebody who wants desperately to be seen as one. And that's a little pathetic, don't you think?

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jel said...

hey does that mean that I'm intellectual, I read your blog,

I have never been called that before! :)

hi Brenda
have a great day! :)

J. Mark Bertrand said...

"Why is it not okay to read books for sheer, mindless entertainment?" Because there are thousands of TV executives who depend on us turning to them for sheer, mindless entertainment, and if we don't support them there's a chance other nations will come to dominate the sheer, mindless entertainment spectrum, and then we'll be watching their shows instead of them having to watch ours. Reading for sheer, mindless entertainment, therefore, is a very un-American thing to do. Which I suppose makes it a very intellectual thing to do. Hmm. I'd say more but I've got to get down to the beach with a sheer, mindless book to maintain my intellectual cred.

Susan Kaye said...

I suppose it's the same prejudice that requires Evangelicals to limit their reading to novels that are little more than the Four Spiritual Laws smothered in chocolate with a chewy center.

Things are improving, but as long as pure entertainment is thought to be a waste of time, regardless of your persuasion, we'll always be reading to impress others.

Personally, I put covers on particularly my paperbacks just to keep people guessing.

Kate S. said...

I don't think that anyone should feel, or be made to feel, ashamed of their fondness for "fluffy" reading material. But I am equally put off by a presumption that anyone who expresses an interest in an "intellectual" title is lying to impress. That smacks to me of reverse snobbery. Some of my reading falls into one category, some into the other. My interest and enjoyment of both sorts of books is genuine. I think that people ought to be able to read whatever they like on any given day without being subject to judgement.

Brenda Coulter said...

Janice, it's always good to see you around here.

Mark, your cred was never at risk. Not only do you read my blog and leave comments under your real name, you also cheerfully admit to reading fluffy books. It couldn't be any clearer that you're the genuine article: a true intellectual.

Susan, I am now consumed with curiosity to know what you've been reading.

Aw, Kate, don't worry. I was only half-serious when I went off on pseudo-intellectuals. I thought everyone would realize that when I called my own blog "fluffy."

Anonymous said...

"Laughter is the best medicine". Okay, pardon the cliche, but there is truth to that. I can't imagine why anyone would want or choose to read something that they didn't find interesting and entertaining. I guess there are people out there who feel insecure and want to impress others with their "intellect", but I bet they would enjoy life a whole lot more if they chose to laugh (maybe even at themselves) instead of worrying about what others think. God created laughter and humour and how sad that some people don't see the need to enjoy it! I don't know about you people, but there have been times in my life where my only options have been to laugh or cry. When I've chosen laughter over tears, I have felt blessed, encouraged and uplifted.

So by now you've probably guessed that I'm no intellectual. And proud of it. I'll just go enjoy my sheer, mindless entertainment and laugh myself into a better mood! :-)

Laugh, laugh, laugh...

Neal said...

I agree with you totally Brenda. Actually, all of my reading (at home) is for entertainment, and much of it is mindless. In my day job, I spend a lot of time writing technical manuals (in fact, that IS my day job). Let's face it, they're pretty boring. And as a part of the writing, I have to read a fair bit of pretty boring stuff. So I like to ensure that, when I'm at home, I read stuff that I find interesting.

In a similar vein, people sometimes say to me "I expect when you get home, the last thing you want to do is stare at a computer screen". Well, not true, actually. Sometimes, it's the first thing I want to do, so long as what's on the screen is interesting!

I think the whole issue of what people do when they're not working is quite interesting. When I'm not working, do I stop reading or stop looking at the computer? Of course not. At least to an extent, my love of both has led me to the job I do. But I have no intention of trying to convince you that I like nothing better than to curl up with a good book about programming in C++ at night. Nor will I look down my nose at you for not wanting to do the same.

That's all slightly off the topic I suppose, but it's first thing in the morning and I'm getting my fingers into gear for another day typing! And it's Friday, so I'm sure you'll forgive me ;-)

Laura Vivanco said...

Can I flaunt my intellectual credentials by quoting some Latin? ;-)

aut prodesse aut delectare

"Until the twentieth century all literature was expected to have a didactic purpose in a general sense, that is, to impart moral, theoretical or even practical knowledge; Horace famously demanded that poetry should combine prodesse (learning) and delectare (pleasure). The twentieth century was more reluctant to proclaim literature openly as a teaching tool."
(from a pdf document I found online, from the University of Tubingen, because I'm too lazy to find another reference, and this one will do perfectly well)

It seems to me that the delightful/enjoyable aspect of literature has been recognised for a long time, and even the very 'fluffiest' of works, written for 'sheer, mindless entertainment' will have a message in there somewhere, if you choose to look for it. I was having a look at some of the more overt messages in romance just recently. People may choose to ignore/overlook the messages, and they may disagree with them, or disagree about what the messages are, but there's always more than just 'entertainment'.

Conversely, if the great literature is meant to be 'good' for us, how does it do that if not by 'instructing' in some way? It works because it makes us think, it challenges, stimulates the brain, perhaps gives us role models or anti-role-models. And I think it entertains too. Shakespeare was writing plays to entertain, Tolstoy and Proust can be read as escapism...

It's true that what we learn from the 'fluff' may be less nuanced than the education we receive from great literature, but not always. Animal Farm and Brave New World aren't particularly subtle, though they are powerful. And sometimes people just don't see the subtleties in 'fluff' because they aren't looking for it. But there's an online academic journal of Buffy Studies for example. When one looks closely, a lot of 'entertainment' can provide plenty of food for thought.

Brenda Coulter said...

Goodness, the intellectuals are out in force today!

...even the very 'fluffiest' of works, written for 'sheer, mindless entertainment' will have a message in there somewhere, if you choose to look for it.

I believe that, Laura. Whether consciously or not, we readers expect a novel to make some kind of sense. In order to capture our attention and admiration, each story must have a point, a reason for being told. So every successful novel does indeed contain a lesson, whether simple or profound, obvious or subtle.

Your post on Sending Messages was right on target.

Dr. Lisa said...

Oh! Oh! I think I count as an intellectual because I got my fancy-dancy PhD! It's not in a literary field, though. Oh well, I am declaring myself smart anyway.