Thursday, February 2, 2012

Novel Experiences

The American Spectator's Christopher Orlet wonders why it is that he no longer reads novels.  As I read his piece, I remembered that when I was an undergraduate I once heard that JFK never, or rarely, read them himself, preferring instead biographies and non-fiction generally.  At the time, I thought that sounded wise and all grown up, so for a while I tried to pretend that I preferred non-fiction as well.

I say "pretend" because I still read novels anyway, quite often finding non-fiction tedious, a piling on of fact after fact in order to make a point that could have been made in a single page or two.  Later I was relieved to learn that really smart people, you know, the kind of people I longed to be lumped with, read fiction after all, almost exclusively in fact, to include novels and short stories, even poetry.  The result for me was that I had to learn to affect a whole other persona.  Being young and insecure can be oh such a burden (and a bore) at times.

Now, largely as a result of writing this blog I must confess, I find that I read less and less, fiction and non-fiction alike.  Instead, I spend far too much of my idle time mining the Internet, cable TV news, and talk radio for small nuggets (fool's gold?) about which to make some timely and cogent remarks.  (You're the judge.)

Anyway, I worry about that.  I'm old enough to know that my time is increasingly limited and so I don't want to waste it on ephemera, from whichever genre it comes.  But I do still want to read, especially those works that have stood the test of the passage of at least some descent interval of time.  In other words, I want mostly to read the classics and quasi-classics.

Among the latter, I would without hesitation include Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.  So, it gives me pause when I read that Mr. Orlet couldn't quite make it through the book.

I introduced my children to McCarthy a few years back and they were hooked at once.  But they  noticed an important distinction between those who immediately appreciated McCarthy as they did and those who did not.  Such was the distinction thast now my son (mid-twenties) uses people's reaction to Blood Meridian as a test of their relative intelligence.  If they are not at least engaged by the novel, well, then they must be a little bit slow.

If I just insulted you, too bad.  Being old and fairly secure can be oh so liberating.


  1. I notice among DC grad students a lack of serious fiction reading, especially among conservative types (I do a survey at the beginning of courses). This means a lack of imagination. This is one reason liberals can seem to win a lot of political debates. Conservatives (see Romney) may have the stats (and the truth), but they can't put it into a narrative (Obama skill).

  2. Interesting...and ironic.

    Typically it's conservatives who defend the canon, the Great Books, to include classic novels and fiction in general. While liberals routinely disparage it as, among other things, the dated, narrow, prejudiced, or bigoted product of dead white males.