Saturday, February 7, 2009

The battle for readers

It's good to have your prejudices tested. I have a prejudice about the literary elite as a somewhat snobbish group of academically trained readers who struggle nervously with their recent fall from the top of the cultural hierarchy.

This video, unfortunately, confirms my prejudice. It's a panel debate on the battle for readers:

One panelist tells a horror story about some official who once suggested that it might be okay for boys to read comic books instead of "serious literature". Another corrects her: Actually, some comic books, like Sandman and Watchmen, are okay, but that's about it.

When somebody brings Sandman and Watchmen into a debate about literature, that's often a sign they've never ventured beyond the respectable end of comic books, (so respectable that they're also known as "graphic novels"). It's like saying Shakespeare is your favourite playwright. Well he might be, but it might also be that Shakespeare is the only playwright you've ever read.

Another panelist complains that reading is popularly thought of as "nerdy". Well, of course it is. Reading is nerdy. What's wrong with that? It's amazing: Here you have this room full of nerds, discussing their nerdy hobby, and they're concerned that they're perceived as nerds.

Reading is also a radical hobby. Expecting mainstream approval and support is to miss the point.



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