Catherine Morland, the naïve heroine at the center of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey asks, “Have you ever read Udolpho Mr. Thorpe?” Mr. Thorpe replies, “Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do.”
Never has man uttered a less sexy phrase.
As an avid reader and writer, books have chiseled my life such that I can’t distinguish who I am apart from the books I’ve read. Books contain universes, experiences, and challenges that I can try on and walk around in—to get the feel of a life—from which I have always emerge altered, changed, and cast anew. How is it that I can have such meaningful experiences in books, and yet someone like Mr. Thorpe believes his “something else” paramount to the life lessons that can be gathered within a book’s pages?
I strive to be open minded and nonjudgmental about people’s paths. I’m open to the unique ways in which people make their way through Life. But if I’m honest with myself (and you, dear reader), it turns out that, really, I’m not. I don’t understand people who don’t read. By strolling in a character’s footsteps, we develop new lenses through which we see the world and I find it difficult to trust folks who can’t be bothered to try on these other perspectives, places, and cultures.
A while ago, Scientific American published an article about the positive effects on the brain of reading literary fiction. Researchers at The New School in New York City “found evidence that literary fiction improves one’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling” (Chiaet). I know that we aren’t all reading Joyce Carol Oates or Jeffrey Eugenides at every turn but by reading more literary fiction, we increase our “capacity for empathy.” Reading well-crafted stories about the trials and tribulations of another increases our ability to feel compassion for the diverse paths we tread. Our attempts to understand one’s story hones our appreciation for the struggles faced by others. Our ability to thoughtfully consider the needs of others forges deeper awareness of and intensifies our gratefulness for the relative fortune of our own lives.
The more pop-culturally literate among you may recall Kanye West’s emphatic declaration, “I am a proud non-reader of books.” In this, Kanye West has become the Mr. Thorpe of our modern age. How can one not read? How can he, or any like him, proclaim with pride the fact that they have “something else” that’s more important, interesting, or valuable than exploring those doors opened by reading? What does this say about his character? In the case of Kanye West, I think that answer is clear, but what about the rest of us?
I propose that books become the new martini, bookstores the new bar scene. If you want to get to know me, buy me a book instead of a drink. If you’re interested in spending time with me, tell me about the story that spoke to your soul. I don’t want to know how many Twitter followers you have, but I am eager to know which authors you read and which book you’d take with you on your proverbial trip to a deserted island. Why waste time? I’d be mortified to discover that I’d wasted even fifteen minutes talking to a Kanye West.
As always, please write, tweet, or Facebook me (links on the left). Unless you’re a Mr. Thorpe. Then, go read a book.
P.S. If you’re on Instagram, do yourself a favor and check out #hotdudesreading. You’re welcome.
Chiaet, Juliet. “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy.” Scientific American, 23 March 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/.
5 thoughts on “Kanye West Isn’t Sexy (but This Guy Is)”
I’d like to see a list of your faves as far as literary fiction go. My recents have been Steinbeck. But I do enjoy a good fluff fiction too.
We all enjoy fluff from time to time; summer, the beach, periods of stress, etc. I’ve read a lot of YA for that escapist tendency. As for lit fic, I devoured Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See.” It’s stunning and beautifully written. I love classics and am on a Jane Austen kick right now. Just reread “Northanger Abbey”; probably not her best, but her most satiric for sure. “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck is a gorgeous book and “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver is AMAZING. It’s really heavy and relatively grim, but I loved it unlike I’ve loved many other books. Have you read “The Help” by Katherine Stockett? I loved that. Now you need to share your list 🙂
Some of my only memories of my grandfather were of him reading to me. My mother did also. I suspect it is because of her father.
My youth was spent in search of good stories. As an asthmatic child with an overprotective mother, I spent many sunny summer days sitting on in my tile floor covered bedroom, looking out of the window at fun beyond my reach. So, I read. I read everything. Breakfast cereal boxes, the back of newspapers (that were currently having the front read), old copies of Readers Digest smuggled in from the forbidden dust area known as the garage. My tastes were not much in the way of clasics, unless Sherlock Holmes or Doc Savage (Man of Bronze!) is considered as such. My tastes have varied wildly. Shakespeare, Aurthr C. Clarke, Douglas Adams, Churchill, Gary Larson. Whatta ya got? Stephen King? Ok, its crappy, but I’ll give ‘er a go. Dashiell Hammett? Noir! True war stories intrigue me. Superman was a childhood friend. I still retain my love of the comic book.
Sadly, my offspring do not enjoy the written word as I do. That is something that saddens me. There is nothing like the musty smell of old National Geographic. Nothing like the joy of adventure uncovered one page at a time.
Ah well, perhaps when I have grandchildren. Those old comics aren’t going anywhere.
Thank you Gretchen. Your blogs are wonderful.
Kirk I am so thrilled to know that you appreciate my writing. Given that you are a longtime lover of words (I also read cereal boxes in dire morning moments of being caught unprepared!), that means a lot. Thank you for sharing that with me. I love how your memories of reading are tied up with familial relationships. I can almost picture you, tucked in a warm bed, sick, nothing but some medicine bottles and a stack of Nat Geos by your bed. Sounds perfect (OK, minus the asthmatic part!). Keep on readin’ on, my friend. Books rule!
On a recent train trip, while I was happily reading, there was a group of British young men who spent the entire 2 hour trip showing each other absurd videos on their phone as entertainment. At some point, this became entertaining to me, because it was a bit of Young Ones episode in real life, but I was also fairly astounded that this is what serves as entertainment nowadays. Sure enough, my 16 year old non-academic nephew is visiting and his way of trying to relate to me is by what videos or songs he can show my on his phone. I wish he read, I really do, I even threw some graphic novels his way in hopes of it sticking…but no dice. But, he’s a lovely young man and my minor influence isn’t going to change his way of being in this regard, so this terribly uncool aunt needs to brush up on her YouTube before the next visit…