My reading list tilts heavily to the past. I recently finished The Minister’s Wooing, a pre-Civil War Harriet Beecher Stowe novel. Leaping over decades, I then moved onto A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich, written in 1931.
But as I listen to the radio and read current newspapers and magazines, I often jot down contemporary titles that sound intriguing. Every once in a while I log on to the library’s computer system and go down the list, placing holds on those titles. Over the next few days (or weeks, depending on how popular or obscure the book is) a computer generated voice on the phone lets me know that I have books waiting at my local branch.
Occasionally, I find a gem, as I did this past week-end when I had an extremely enjoyable time reading Ruth Reichl’s depiction of her life as the restaurant critic for the New York Times.
But way too often I don’t get past the first few pages of books that were praised as intriguing, humorous, thought provoking, etc. It seems that the reviewer neglected to mention that the book was also downright vulgar. Am I the only reader left in America who finds profanity on every page a surefire reason to stop reading? Somehow, I don’t think so; but clearly enough readers consider four letter words to be necessary for meaningful and/or witty repartee so that their inclusion is distressingly frequent.
There’s another common denominator to a great deal of modern writing that I’ve discovered. It is the inclusion, often in otherwise good books, of throwaway lines that are totally irrelevant to the plot. These lines attack conservatives, Republicans and the great big evil, the NRA. It seems as if the author, in the middle of doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, namely writing a book, was seized by a paroxysm of hatred that necessitated a venting of feelings before getting back to the topic at hand.
I admit to finding this jarring as well as depressing. For example, in an otherwise enjoyable book I looked at recently on a totally non-political topic, the author felt it necessary to betray his unquestioningly acceptance of anti-NRA propaganda. I don’t assume that people who support gun control do so because they believe that only criminals should have weapons, and I admit to being confused as to why any intelligent person would believe that people support the NRA because they enjoy seeing innocent people killed. The author’s seemingly uncontrollable need to insult NRA members also suggests a belief that the millions of Americans who support the second amendment are all illiterate rather than potential readers. I do find the naiveté and close-mindedness in terms of actually seeking to understand the issue quite shocking, but does the author realize how he’s limiting his readership? I really do not tend to buy books that insult me (and when I read something from the library that I really like, buying it is not infrequently the next step).
My suggestion is that these authors do two things. First, stick to their topic without being sidetracked by ideology. Second, they might want to take the time to research their positions rather than assuming that NPR or the New York Times gives balanced and broad information. I imagine that expanding their universe will only make them better writers.
As for me, Arthur Ransome’s 1936 masterpiece (I’m prejudiced. I love Arthur Ransome’s writings) Pigeon Post is on my bedside table next to Barbara Tuchman’s Bible and Sword from 1956. Before attempting to read the next batch of current literature, I need a break from profanity, intolerance and prejudice.