The Myth of Bored Readership

Nick Hornby notes that reading should be fun. He notes:

To put it crudely, I get bored, and when I get bored I tend to get tetchy. It has proved surprisingly easy to eliminate boredom from my reading life. And boredom, let’s face it, is a problem that many of us have come to associate with books. It’s one of the reasons why we choose to do almost anything else rather than read; very few of us pick up a book after the children are in bed and the dinner has been made and the dirty dishes cleared away.

While I can get behind the idea that books can be fun, the way that Hornby has phrased his rhetoric strikes me as deficient. It’s one thing to march through a lengthy and turgid book and go out of your way to determine what an author is trying to say (even when it fails to strike a chord), but to throw a book aside simply because one is bored or one cannot find a single point of interest is counterproductive and far from quixotic. To my mind, any good reader should remain naturally curious and committed to the task at hand, which also involves reading things outside what she’s comfortable reading. The copout excuse of boredom cannot do justice to a book, nor can it effectively attune or expand a reader sensibilities. The real question a reader should ask is why a book failed to reach her, what about it succeeded or failed, and why the book was incompatible.

The problem isn’t so much that reading isn’t fun, but that Western society retains a terrible prejudice against the intellectually curious, a state of thinking that can be extremely fun. The academic world is often a humorless millieu of rigid deconstruction. A high school English teacher must subscribe to an inoffensive administrator-sanctioned reading list. Any cockeyed perspective, even a half-baked one, outside the acceptable range of responses is considered wrong or incorrect — this, despite proven results from teachers like Rafe Esquith. Moreover, the thought of thinking and entertaining in the same bite is about as daffy as a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch.

Hornby’s proselytizing may win him points among his slacker constituency, but why an’t both camps commingle here? Can’t we find a balance that encourages a new generation of fun-loving, energetic and intellectually rigorous readers? Or has our culture become so hopelessly “bored” that the mind stumbles into atrophy instead of curiosity?

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One Comment

  1. Interesting piece, but what I though was more noteworthy about Hornby’s article was his utilitarian approach to prose – that is to say that he argues that prose (at least for him) should be as clear aand simple as possible, that it should serve only to commincate with the reader. Hornby seems to discount the idea that prose can be a thing of beauty in itself. I mean, has he never read Nabokov?

    Here in the UK Hornby is seen as a middle-brow writer (he’s never been nominated for the Booker) and people are suprised to see that he associates with the McSweeney’s crowd, especially as Hornby makes it clear that he has no time for contemporary literary fiction.

    That said, I tend to agree with him that if reading aparticular book makes you feel you are wading through treacle then you should put it down. Life’s too short to struggle through work that you are not enjoying. Go read something else. Like Ishiguro 😉

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