HTT: How To Literature

So right now I'm reading two books I picked up from the library. One is the memoir of famed intellectual Christopher Hitchens and the other is a scholarly biography of the Mormon religion. Both are incredibly dense . . . but for different reasons.

This isn't horn tooting because the point is is that while I was taking a moment to consider a complex thought that had just detonated in my lap, I looked up at my book shelf and realized that I hadn't read any Harry Potter books in a while. Any reader will acknowledge that it's fine and all to have some intellectual pursuits, but there's nothing in the world like imagining Voldemort losing for the eighth or ninth time. Books don't have to be receptacles of information . . . they can and they should be childish, voyeuristic, and mind numbingly fun.

My son isn't a reader. Which makes me sad.

In all other respects, he's a virtual autodidact, but it's YouTube and not the Encyclopedia Britannica where he gleans his understanding of the known universe.

And he's not alone.

Two things have happened simultaneously to the Digital Generation that have nudged them away from paper and ink. The first, of course, being instantaneous video tutorials on just about every level of the human experience, and the second being the absolute failure of our education system to deal with subjective mediums.

In my day (damn that hurts), we would be forced to read a book and then forced write about it. The teacher, then, was forced to dredge through our sloppy compositions and try to determine if A) We actually read the book, and if B) We had at least some personal notion of what it was about. It was tedious work for everyone, but it was the only way.

Now that no child is being left behind, we've attached a far more objective way to grade comprehension. Now a child reads a Harry Potter book and then takes an online-multiple-choice quiz with questions like "Were the Dursleys . . . Fat . . . Obese . . . Proud . . . or Quotidian."

The quiz will spit out a percentage of comprehension that will be emailed to the parent and added to their permanent record.

The answer is that the Dursleys were Proud. It says so in the first line of the book.

That may seem like a joke, but having first hand experience with these tests I can assure you that they are all this ambiguously, ridiculously, phrased. All of them.

So at the same time our education system is turning "The Giving Tree" into a technical manual, our kids can go onto any computer and type "Fun Stuff" and get blasted with endless possibilities.

Goodbye Narnia. Thanks for the memories.

But I'm not a fatalist on this subject. Our kids will get around to books eventually. Books are just too damn awesome. But their route is unfortunately going to have to be a bit more circuitous than ours and I thought for today's "How To Tuesday" I would offer a little insight in the best way to begin on  the best journey there is:

First: Start with what you know.
Just about every TV show that's worth watching is based on a book. Same thing with movies. Same thing with history, religion, and sports.

Second: Read what your friends are reading.
It should be the first topic of every conversation after the weather has been exhausted. There isn't a person alive who can't wait to share what they are reading, even if they found the whole thing terrible. "Fifty Shades of Gray" comes to mind. Everyone I know who has read the trilogy, can't say enough terrible things about it and yet when asked why they read all three of the books will say "I felt like I had to."

Third: Read what your idols are reading.
Famous people love to talk about how smart they are and what they are inspired by. If you like a guest on the Daily Show . . . go and get their book. There's a good chance that their work is influenced by hundreds of different books. That's where the real insight begins.

Fourth: Let one book take you to the next.
Salinger wrote more than "Catcher in the Rye" and if you like the work of a writer, there's a good chance you're gonna like other things they wrote.

Fifth: Read what those writers are reading.
Author's reference other books all the time. I found John Irving through Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut through Douglas Adams. Decent authors know where to find the good stuff.

Sixth: Take on a classic.
In a lot of cases, there's a reason why they've become classics. It's because they're that good. Pro-Tip: Feel free to avoid anything taught in high school (The Scarlet Letter comes to mind), as well as avoiding anything really thick or written by an author with a vaguely Russian surname. I'm not anti-russian, it's just that they have a tendency to involve lots of different characters and lots  of different places and aren't usually nice enough to include a map or character index (Thank-you Tolkien)

Seventh: Non-Fiction.
Not all Nonfiction is good. In fact most isn't. And not all non-fiction is carefully researched. If you want to tackle some non-fiction, go back to the first rule and start with what you know. If you liked Band of Brothers, the actual book will blow your mind. But don't feel the pang of regret if you can't get through any particular non-fiction book. If it's not interesting, drop it and move on. And never read the autobiography of a President. Any President or anyone who wants to be president. What a waste of effing time.

last but not least . . .

Eighth: Go ahead and judge book by it's cover.
Artists spend a lot of time and money making a book look inviting. If it looks inviting, take her out for a spin. At worst you get about fifty pages in and go "Meh." At best you can bring it up at your next brunch with the boys and giggle and say "OMG have you read such and such yet?"

So . . . yeah . . . this isn't comprehensive . . . but it's a good start. And you might be thinking to yourself that well . . . maybe you're just not a reader. But think about it this way . . . if you can read . . . then technically . . . you're a reader. You just haven't found the right book.

Quotidian . . BTW . . . means common/everyday/typically mundane. It's a good word to describe the Dursleys, food shopping, laundry, and all of your homework, but it's the antithesis of what happens between "Chapter One" and "The End"

Literature is anything but quotidian. No matter how you get there.

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