asher63 (asher63) wrote,

On Reading

I enjoy literature because I like to read about the experiences of different people from different places and times, and because I find pleasure in the elegant use of language, and because I value the insights about life and human nature that I can gain from literature.

I think of literature as a braid woven of three strands: the universal, the cultural, and the individual. Every original work is the product of a unique mind, a person whose personality and temperament belong to them alone. That person belongs to a culture (or an overlapping array of cultures) that shapes their attitudes and experiences yet does not define them. And all of us, whatever our cultural baggage and our individual quirks may be, share universal experiences of emotion, intellect, sensation, and spirit.

I think there's value in seeking out the work of writers from backgrounds different from one's own - religious, ethnic, cultural, political, etc. I also think that you cheat yourself if you make your reading list merely a "diversity program" with boxes to be checked, or if you pretend to yourself that you like a writer just because you think you should - because they're from some seemingly exotic background, or they have the right academic credentials or the correct political views, or because all your friends say you should like them.

Personally I think the best writers honor their own place in the world, even as they reach beyond it. Perhaps the best reading happens the same way.

You are the final judge of what you read. You don't have to be English to appreciate Shakespeare, you don't have to be Irish to appreciate James Joyce, you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate Leonard Cohen, you don't have to be black to appreciate Toni Morrison.

I don't think any of these propositions should be controversial. Some debates get very contentious because people feel they need to defend their "turf" and end up taking extreme positions, when in fact there is abundant middle ground. Perhaps this happens in cultural debates, when cultural matters are being used as a proxy for other concerns.

Ultimately our attitudes are our own. The Delany sisters lived together for more than 100 years, yet remained as different as night and day in their personalities. We have the freedom to choose what we read, and how we allow it to shape us.
Tags: books, toni morrison

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