Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Must-Have Book

I've been so busy (and worn out) that I've only just got around to looking at Sunday's papers (before throwing them out), so I've only just caught up with Rachel Cooke's reaction to that talked-about book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read:
...yet another product of a world that commodifies everything, that regards books pretty much as if they were status handbags. It sees reading only as a social indicator, as a way of getting on or looking cool, ignoring the fact that, at bottom, it is a private pleasure to be enjoyed for its own sake.
The first time it ever occurred to me that people bought books just to be cool - and not to read them - was, I'm afraid, on the publication of Trainspotting which people seemed to have a habit of wearing sticking out their back pockets or handbags. I hasten to say that I think the book's brilliant, but how could so many people read it so easily? As anyone who's done psychology or any actor will tell you the phonetic transcription of speech sounds is one the most difficult things to read, because of the component of expectation in the psychological process of perception and therefore of reading: the prior connections we make in our heads between the sounds of a dialect and any written form involve the standard forms and not those phonetic ones. Even the kids in Dundee I taught had problems with Rabbie Burns, so used were they to reading standard English.

It's this idea 'that reading is a private pleasure for it's own sake' which Rachel Cooke uses to challenges author Pierre Bayard's justifications, including his assertion that we forget half the books we read anyway. Call me an old sobersides, but I'd go further: beyond the pleasure principle, books can affect us, affect our world view and even, I would claim, the way we behave in the world - even if we do forget them on the conscious level.
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