Reading Stagnation

Spring seems to be officially here! Isn’t it lovely to see the flowers again?

Over the weekend, I was catching David up on some of the discussions during the week about whether reading “literary” fiction is better for you. I told him about my blog posts on Careless Conclusions in Genre Reading and whether suffering is a human virtue.

Okay, I might have been ranting. This is the public service that David performs for you all. He listens to my ranting so YOU don’t have to! He’s a loving and selfless human being this way.

At any rate, I was telling him about the essay that set me off on the Careless Conclusions post, how she proposed a “slow books movement,” comparable to the Slow Food ideas. And he, being the one who’s finishing his degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM = acupuncture, herbs, nutrition, body work – for those of you not in the know), said that slow food causes stagnation and obstruction.

He’s like that these days. You mention one thing and he gives you a list of causes, symptoms and remedies. It’s like living with the TCM Magic 8 Ball.

So, I start to explain that’s not what the Slow Food people are about – that it’s in opposition to fast food, that you make food from scratch, from raw sources and take time to prepare it carefully. But then I realized: he has a really good point. Because, really, the Slow Books analogy is not a good parallel at all. It’s not about books that take longer to write. (Though I know the literary aficionados think this is true, making the classic mistake of believing that a fast read means a fast write. Heavens to Betsy, we only wish!)

No, by Slow Books, she really means books that take a long time to READ.

We’ve all been there, right? That weighty tome we’re required to read, for class or because we decide we should. And you sit there and wade through it, trying to keep your focus on it, failing. You set it down at the least excuse and find ten thousand reasons not to pick it up again. For me this is Great Expectations. I bet I’ve tried to read it five times. I can’t. I just can’t. Don’t make me slide into Gollum-speak to explain my feelings.

These books take a long time to read and digest – so David’s analogy is actually spot on. They are like food that sits in our stomachs and takes forever to break down for nutrition. If you’re starving, maybe this is a good thing. “Stick to your ribs” was a positive attribute in a world where you might not see another meal for a couple of days. But usually, stagnation and obstruction is a negative. That enormous Thanksgiving meal? The Prime Rib special at the local steakhouse? That triple-bacon-cheeseburger that looked liked such a good idea on the billboard?

Yeah, we’ve pretty much all experienced the stagnation and obstruction thing.

It’s interesting to contemplate. Maybe non-literary fiction isn’t the junk food of the mind, but rather the whole grains and fresh fruit. A light, fast read that leaves us optimistic and full of fun, new ideas might be cleansing. Just enough to nourish without overwhelming the system. After all, it’s not like we need more input for our brains. Our modern American society is as information-rich as it is food-rich.

Discovering what’s truly good for us, so that we operate as healthy and happy people – that’s the key.

6 Replies to “Reading Stagnation”

  1. LOVE your analogy. Yes, light, bright wholesome fruit! Yay!

    I was talking to a lit fiction reading friend this winter, and some book had taken her so long to read, she had to re-read the beginning to remember what the heck happened. I felt like, in what world is that a good book? In your analogy, it’s like, eating a shoe maybe.

  2. Slow Food? That doesn’t even sound good – especially when you look at it from David’s point where it means stagnation and obstruction. :shudder: Although, when relating it to books, I guess that would mean literary fiction could result in mental constipation. :smirk:

    Yeah, some books are like fast food, and that’s okay. Okay every once in a while but not good for every meal of the day. Mix it up. I would venture that most books are just food that you can eat fast, digest fast, and spend time afterwards savoring the memory if you want. ;o)

    1. Believe me, B.E. – I know some seriously mentally constipated people, too. I wonder what the literary equivalent of Ex-Lax would be, that we could sneak into their TBR pile?

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