Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Slow Book Manifesto: The Trouble with Canon

Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.

Go read Maura Kelly's Atlantic article about the need for us to read books, read more, and read more discreetly.

The attention in the comments and from what I followed on Twitter revolve around this claim:
But Slow Books will have standards about what kinds of reading materials count towards your daily quota. Blog posts won't, of course, but neither will newspaper pieces or even magazine articles.
Also excluded: non-literary books.
How far shall we take this claim- and what is literary or non-literary? Shakespeare is in, Daniel Brown out, right? Or does she mean here are works of fiction, here are self-help books and non-fiction? Would Bill Bryson's travel writing make the cut?

The thing I really like about Kelly's approach is that she advocates for a small amount of daily reading. Reading in little bites is refreshing.

I'm coming down on the side of the author, even as it makes parts of me squirm. I hate the idea of a canon. I refuse to genuflect before the altar of Shakespeare and Dickens and the Brontes. Ten generations of English professors can be wrong. Just because Ulysses shattered a whole host of expectations of how a book should look and feel and taste, doesn't mean that everyone should have to read it. Similarly, the "mostly classics" in the epigraph is a little too ambiguous. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not the same flavor of classic as To the Lighthouse.

One of the greatest things to happen in my life was the discovery of Pandora online radio. I type in an artist I like, and Pandora makes the connection to other artists I should like. Netflix is getting better and better about doing the same thing for movies. BookLamp is trying to do it for books, but it is often too literal; Captains Courageous is really not a good comp for The Old Man and the Sea.

I'd like to think of books as families. The Old Man and the Sea has parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, siblings and cousins. A dedicated reader, having found a book he or she likes, should have a natural path for exploration. It takes a little extra research to plan ahead, but if we're reading every day, we won't be able to help thinking about books every day. That alone is a step in the right direction.

So, yes: Read books. As often as you can. And start thinking about what to read next.

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