I actually don’t read very much

A friend of mine was talking about people who don’t own TVs and won’t shut up about it. They’re just pretentious. He said the same is true of pretentious readers, who brag about all the great stuff, but really “They’re just reading Latin ass-masters,” to keep their Pretentious dues up to date. (“Latin Ass Master” being the greatest quote Iv’e heard this month, and I’m totally stealing it)

Anyway, this has got me wondering if I’m pretentious or not w/r/t reading.  I mean, I read Dante’s Inferno, but I didn’t understand a word of it. I’m more likely to blurt out “I read it” than “I didn’t understand it.” I will reluctantly admit that if questioned, though.

I read Gulliver’s Travels, which you can’t brag about because everyone thinks it’s a children’s book, but (A) it’s not and (B ) it’s a fucking HARD read! It’s 300 years old. It’s not as tough as reading Shakespeare, but it’s much harder than reading modern English. (If you point out in comments that Shakespeare is Modern English, then fuck you, you, sir, are the problem, not the solution. Also, it’s now considered ‘Early Modern English.’) I also read “Tale of a Tub,” which Swift thought his greatest book, and which was widely regarded as his funniest.

Comedy doesn’t age well.

It took me about three years to plow through that book, and while I got about a third of it (It’s an allegory about denominationalism in Christianity) I couldn’t quote a single thing from it from memory, and I don’t think I laughed once. (Conversely, I did laugh quite a bit at Gulliver during the Laputa adventure). Any discussion of “Tub” generally starts with me freely admitting I didn’t understand it, and making a joke out of the situation. I’m less likely to do that with Dante, which I understood less of. So basically I’ll volunteer that I’m an idiot on something I *kinda* got, but will only admit I didn’t get the other thing when I’m cornered and have no escape. Seems reversed from the norm, but probably still pretentious.

I read Caesar’s Gallic Wars mostly just to say I did it. (Years later I read it to Bey during homeschooling for history. He liked it better than I did, though. It is pretty fascinating, it just did’t pop my cork)

Everyone assumes that I’m this amazingly well-read guy, but if you made a stack of all the Classical Latin Ass-Masters that I’ve read, and the Star Trek novels I’ve read, I guarantee you the Trek pile is higher. And I don’t even *like* Star Trek.

Thing is, I don’t even read all that much. I mean, I used to read a lot more than I do. When I was a kid, if I was good for a week, my reward was a Hardy Boy’s Mystery (“The Case of the Caper about the Capers in the Case”), which I’d wolf down in a day. There were a billion of those, so it was an easy way for my mom to buy my loyalty.

And I did used to read much more, but never what you’d call “A lot.” And it was generally pretty lowbrow. Whatever the school library had in Science Fiction (Generally from the 50s) or Space stuff (Generally from the 60s). In college I’d raid the flea markets and bookshops for used stuff, but again mostly old SF. I got in the habit of keeping  a book in my car to read when I was unpredictably stuck somewhere doing something – Jiffy-Lube, Doctor’s office, whatever – and had a half hour to kill, and I’d usually have another one or two in my room. So I might have 2 or 3 books going at a time, but that’s nothing special.

I always preferred Short Stories to novels. I’m Shallow. Short attention span. If you make a stack of all the SF I’ve read in my life and placed it next to the stack of ‘straight’ fiction – that is, stuff without rayguns and aliens and space ships (or at least submarines) – the trashy SF stack would tower above the ‘real’ fiction stack like Trump’s ego towers over the Burj Dubai.

Of course that cheap joke implies I’ve read a lot more than I have. It’d be more like a two-story house compared to a standard wheeled garbage can.

I’d have love affairs with some author. Iike I plowed through everything by Kurt Vonnegutt in one summer, and hence can not tell his books apart (They overlap a lot). Same with Philip K. Dick. (They overlap less, but he repeats himself a lot)

Thing is, after college I read a lot less, and then when I started writing my own stuff (12 years ago) I read less still (“Why listen to music when you can play it?”) and when my eyes started going REALLY nearsighted, I read even less still. And honestly, I don’t even write all that much anymore. 1/2 a book in three years? Unimpressive.

So am I a poser, or what?  I totally do judge people who read Trek novels. Including myself. A standard Randy joke is to make fun of SF geeks who’ve never read any SF apart from tie-in novels to Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, and anything else with “Star” In the title. (BattleSTAR Galactica?)

(Actually, the 70s/80s Galactica novels were pretty good. They weren’t much like the show at all. We should talk about that some time. And the SW novels from about 1990 on tried to maintain an internal continuity. Star Trek Novels have always been bullshit.)
And I regularly make fun of SF authors I don’t like. For instance, the grandmasters of the Genre are Asimov (“Brilliant technical writer for nonfiction, but somehow his fiction was always dry and passionless”) Arthur C. Clarke (“Never quite wrapped his brain about the need for a plot in his books. They’re all just a bunch of stuff that happens, then stops happening, but there’s no *story*”) and Robert Heinlein (“A self-obsessed creepy old swinger and *LITERAL* motherfucker”)
You could argue this is pretension on my part, or taste. In either case I’m fairly unrepentant about it. There’s stuff I can’t understand well (Highfalutin’ classics of centuries gone by) and stuff that I’m totally at home in (Science Fiction). I won’t mock stuff I don’t understand, but I’ll completely tear into stuff I do.
The only case where I consider that a problem is when I’m reading amateur work. I really am very good at what I do (In all modesty), and so there’s a tendency for me to be a little too rough with people who are just starting out. I had this problem early on when I was editing stuff for people, but I stopped, but I have to keep putting effort into *NOT* doing it. Also, I don’t edit stuff for people anymore.

I guess I am pretentious, slightly, as I take no efforts to correct people’s misapprehensions about me, but then again I don’t brag much, if at all (It conflicts with my fundamental self-loathing), so, hey, you decide.

4 thoughts on “I actually don’t read very much

  1. Entertaining piece dear boy. I vote no, you are not a poser. You are still juggling through the stage of life where there is work, family, children, etc. to deal with. When you get old like me, then you will have more time to go back to reading. Besides, reading doesn’t only mean reading books. In today’s world, there are many place good writing is to be found (like here) so one can still read in small but very fulfilling bytes. The important thing is to be in love with words and the creative way they can be and are used by clever people.

    1. Thanks, Katherine. I think you may be wrong about me, but it’s nice to hear otherwise. And if I am pretentious/a poser, at the very least I try to keep it on the DL.

  2. That is an impressive collection of stuff you’ve read. I was also a reading aficionado as a kid, and that is how I got my glasses at age 14. With the exception of Gulliver and Dante I am not familiar with your readings. I read Gulliver at age twelve and had no problems of understanding it. Of course it was translated into Hungarian and as our literary language is only about 250 years old, it all sounded modern to me. I read Dante’s Inferno recently. There is a copy in the library where every page is explained, so it is understandable. Great thoughts and worthy information about middle age Islamist that can be applied easily for contemporary politics. There are so many great books to read and there is so little time. I abhor commercial for profit books, they are worthless. I write my conscience and my style is the accumulated effect of all the classical books I read. By classical I mean good, not Shakespeare or some ancient Roman or Greek works that do not interest me. I like Steinbeck, Dreiser, Flaubert, Balzac, Maupassant, Chekov, Thomas Mann just to mention a few. And Boccaccio’s Decameron, it is a riot. I have a library at home, but I also watch a lot of television, mostly good movies. I subscribe to Netflix, I have a Blue-Ray player, VCR, DVD
    and CD players, tape decks, turn table and of course I am on the Internet. I want to absorb everything before they pull the curtain down on me.
    So such is my life and my wife does all the cooking. I only vacuum clean and trim the shrubs outside.

    1. I’ve read a lot, but most of it is vapid. I doubt I’m getting any intellectual brownie points for reading “Ready Player One,” or “The Runaway Robot.” Still, I enjoyed ’em. Fortunately I lucked into weirdo science fiction fairly early on, rather than the more mundane stuff. By which I mean people like Philip K. Dick and JG Ballard (Before he got all repulsive), who were using a trash genre to explore deep questions about the nature of identity and existence and God and stuff like that. I love a good ray gun battle now and again, but if I have to choose between that and PKD questioning the nature of reality, I’ll take the latter. It’s just more interesting in the long run. I tend to like stuff that makes me ask new questions.

      That said, I honestly believe I’m pretty lowbrow, I’m just naturally curious so people don’t immediately get that about me.

      The difficulty understanding Early Modern English might be a processing problem on my part. A learning disability, or possibly just a lack of patience. Reading generally comes so easily to me that having to actually fight my way through something that *doesn’t* come easy seems especially arduous. I dunno.

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