Good Reading and Bad Reading

Consider these words from Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life: “There was good reading, and there was bad reading. There was the worthy, and the trivial. This was always couched in terms of taste, but it tasted, smelled, and felt unmistakably like snobbery. None of this was new, except, in its discovering, to me.”

I know what she’s talking about and have seen this (the snobbery) in effect many times. There are those who sniff and sneer at popular books while embracing only “the best.” There’s good stuff and not so good stuff. There’s literary fiction, and then there’s fluff and chick lit and sci-fi. Not that I’m opposed to any of the latter. I think there’s something out there for everyone and that there’s something to be gleaned from every book written (even if it’s a reminder to stay away from that author or genre in the future).

With the above in mind, here are some excerpts from books I’ve recently read followed by a short comment about the value of each (to me).

“Louise Jensen was sitting alone, licking her fingers two at a time and paying serious attention to her greasy chicken-leg-and-thigh platter, when she heard muffled crying from the booth behind her at Chuck’s Chicken ‘n’ Biscuits on U.S. Highway 4. It was early Friday afternoon. It was also New Year’s Eve. “ Jason Wright, The Christmas Jar

 You know something is about to happen, but what? This book reminded me to be more altruistic and less selfish.

“We always ate family style, passing heavy bowls of food, and this evening we carefully watched each other and took measure of the helpings of mashed potatoes plopping onto plates. Second servings were even more closely calculated. There seemed to be more silence than usual as well, the air heavy with expectation. Dad’s untucking of his napkin from his collar and final wipe of his mouth was the signal we eagerly anticipated. Mom stood up and peered into the mashed potato serving dish. Ever so slowly, she studied the remains. Despite our fear that maybe, just maybe, too many enjoyed too much, she proclaimed, as she always did, “Looks like there’ll be donuts tonight.” Paddy Bell, “What’s for Dessert?” from Serving Up Memory

 Ah, the nostalgia this paragraph evokes! This passage conjured up images of families gathered ’round tables sharing food, love, and conviviality. 

“Lastly, she knew one other thing, and this was the most important realization of all: she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact. This fact was not merely true about the lives of human beings; it was also true of every living entity on the planet, from the largest creation down to the humblest. “ Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

Gulp. Deep, meaningful, and in my opinion, accurate. Alma reminded me to be tough, strong, and resilient regardless of what happens.

“The search for belonging— in our own skin, with each other, in the world, and even in the history of life— is probably our most persistent and confusing urge, because belonging is a tangled gift. At the heart of it, all belonging is dependent on the strength and health of our connections. And story is and has always been the connective tissue of humanity. As long as we ache to belong, we will ache for a story. Lingering honestly in any moment will reveal a story. “ Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen

Personally relevant as a person who’s reflecting on connectedness and stories. This paragraph reaffirms the power of story and the importance of people in shaping our lives. 

This was an easy post to write, mainly because other writers did it for me. Each excerpt above, whether fiction or nonfiction, has given me food for thought, nuggets to turn over and consider. They and the works from which they are borrowed demonstrate the power of words and the value of different types of literature, high brow and low brow.

What books speak to you? What have you been reading lately? Do you see the value of all types of literature, not just the ones deemed excellent by literary critics?

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
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