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Beach Reads: Bad, Good, or A Declaration of Independence?

Summer is here!

Okay, maybe its not. But today is a gorgeous day in southwestern British Columbia. So much so, that everyone is outside. Kids are giggling, squealing, playing in water. The neighbourhood moms are out chatting and soaking up the Vitamin D.

None of us are inside on our computers right now; who has time to check Twitter and Facebook and read blogs when its this gorgeous out?

Then there’s me. Hee hee. I’m typing in the sun. Best of both worlds, right?

Just kidding.

Sort of. See, besides all the pool parties, BBQ’s, and outdoor gatherings of the summer months, one of the great things about these kinds of days is

reading in the sun. Somehow everything is cheerier about the world I’m escaping to in my book while the heat beats down on me. Maybe its the knowledge that I’m getting a tan (well, whatever version of tan I get!)

Maybe its because, in summer, we tend to pull out those beach reads.

You know what I mean, right? The light-and-fluffy-make-us-warm-and-fuzzy-kind of stories? The ones you get through in a day, or two?

Confession time: how many of us actually apologize for reading lighthearted novels and humourous non-fiction?

Come on, I’m waiting! My hand is way, way up.

Well, while I wait for you all to join me in this other confession of dorkdom, or the real, interesting world, as I like to call it, (by the way, welcome to the support group for geeks ready to come out of the closet and take pride in our less-than-cool ways), I want to share with you something that’s been bothering me.

Yes, its the book snobs again.

Let me explain.

Earlier this week, Guardian Books posted this article to Twitter. The article was in response to a British political blog written about Louise Mensch, one of the members of parliament  who was making waves in the Murdoch phone hacking committee hearing (don’t worry, I don’t entirely understand everything that’s happening there either, I admit; only so much news I can really keep up on, and the overwhelming amount of terrible things happening in the world at any given time is, say, well, a lot). But apparently, Mrs. Mensch once published twelve chick-lit novels under her other name, Louise Bagshaw, which the Bagehot blogger felt compelled to point out when commenting about her “sharp” performance in the committee hearing. And to Bagehot, her beach read books were cause for sneering at her character.

Interesting. I’m not sure if its connected to her gender or to her style. After all, there’s this writer from Trinidad (V.S. Naipaul) that believe that no woman will ever be his literary equal, since we do not know what it means to be the master of our household.

Yeah, I know.

In any case, Guardian has already defended the cause of chick-lit readers and writers in their above-linked article, so I won’t go there again.

But I share this here to ask the question: does it matter that we read or what we read? Is any reading beneficial? Or is quality important? And, what is quality?

I’m not going to give my opinions on those questions, yet. I want to hear what the rest of you have to say. Chances are you are all a lot smarter than me and will likely express yourselves better than I. I also know that as a voracious reader, I do not represent the vast percentage of the population who has lives and pops in to the literary world only when something that really holds their attention grabs them. SO, if there’s any of you normal people reading this blog, us book-a-week (or occasionally, a day – no, that was before I had kids 😉 would especially like your opinion on what’s good enough to bring you into a world someone else has created.

I’d also like to offer this point for consideration, and please do give your honest opinion, here. I won’t be offended. Promise. David Batstone’s Not for Sale, the non-fiction book I’m currently reading about the second largest global organized crime, human trafficking, tells a story of one girl trapped in sexual slavery. She says to someone on the street, if only I had a notebook and could write my thoughts down. If only I could read and write and think about things.

Before reading this book, it had not occurred to me that much of the world’s devastation and poverty is experienced by those who are illiterate. And by illiterate, I mean those who are not able to meet Scotland’s definition of literacy: The ability to read and write and use numeracy, to handle information, to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers, citizens and lifelong learners. (via Wikipedia’s article on literacy)

If reading is the gateway to all those things, then how much more important is it that we engage with books, articles, and ideas? And how do we define quality? Is it style? Is it craft? Is it edgy content?

Let’s put it like this: if you were able to help the illiterate become literate, what would be the first book you would want them to read?

Okay, your turn: tell me what you think. Not just because I asked you to, but because we live in a society where we can.


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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Doris Beck #

    I love reading…and to be honest, my taste is very eclectic(sp?). I love reading what I call ‘fluff’ for those nights when I can’t get to sleep and I need some way to turn off my brain. And I think it is worth it just for that reason. And I love reading things that are more than that, that make me think, that open my mind up to places I have never been to, and thoughts i have never considered. My latest favorite book to read, the one I would suggest to even a non-reader….Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, a short easy read that really makes you stop and think!

    July 23, 2011
    • oooh, thanks for the recommendations. I haven’t heard of Todd’s book yet, will have to check that out. And I totally need a mix of both, too. I think the fluff is important too, that “turning off our brains” thing is healthy, especially right before bed.

      July 25, 2011
  2. Marj Drury #

    Well…I refuse to apologize for my “light” reading times…Maybe I used to, but not any more! I like nothing better than a really good story, and I often am disappointed when a good book ends. I bump around for a day or so with my feelings of a broken relationship, and then I just head back to the library for more! I took your advice on The Book of Awesome. It has been giving me some great moments on my bus riding trips with hubby. I just go for a trip or two on his long days and take along a book to peruse when the paying customers don’t want to see some lady up front distracting the driver. Tonight I was reading a very very funny entry in the Awesome book and found myself chortling and wondering how to contain my laughter and the tears welling in my eyes from trying to stay dignified. Perhaps that is not the best book for bus riding with my spouse. I have been hiding out in the world of Mary, Queen of Scots and the first Elizabeth to the throne, via Philippa Gregory. She has a way of weaving fiction into history that is gripping to the point of not daring to pick up another one of her books unless I have the required couple of days to really enjoy it! Four books of hers later and I am scurrying into the history section of the library to check out more details. Makes me very glad to be a woman living in the 21st century rather than the 16th.

    Sorry for rambling, but I just feel like at your end there is a kindred spirit. One quick story…One day when my Jonathan was a boy of 4 or 5, he chided me for reading on the couch in the middle of the day, BEFORE I had my work all finished in the house. I calmly informed him that reading was much too important to leave until that never never day when the housework would be done. Perhaps this was good prep for the wife that God granted him?…another reader for sure!

    I call my summer reading…Pleasure reading. Come summer, there is nothing quite as sweet as going to the second-hand bookstore and picking up four books of a series from a favorite author and knowing I can safely start reading, knowing that the entire set is in my possession!

    Keep on rolling out the recommendations. I am following your lead and won’t be concerned if we don’t always share the same tastes. It is just nice to know that there is a host of readers out there who are just as happily addicted.

    July 23, 2011
    • Never apologize for “rambling”! Love to hear what you think!! I am so glad you enjoy the Book of Awesome. I too have read a few of Philippa Gregory and I so agree with you that we are lucky to live in our century. Felt that again today while watching Little Women with Noelle. Being in a time when you couldn’t vote or speak up in public, when young girls were discouraged from physical exertion, wow! Anyhow, I too am glad to find other “kindred spirit” Summer readers. It is a great privilege that we have such easy access to so many great books. Next stop for me is Melissa Senate’s “The Love Goddess’ Cooking School.” A friend of mine gave it to me and I follow her on Twitter. So far its pretty interesting, but then, I love to cook. 😉

      July 25, 2011

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