Thursday, December 16, 2010

When ignorance is bliss...

For the last six months I've been participating in a book club. I have great respect for the background knowledge and analytical powers of several of the members. I feel kindly disposed to all of them; I like people who read.

On a couple of occasions only a few people have shown up and we have veered away from the book of the day towards a more general discussion. One participant, K (not her real initial) likes to complain about the sad state of literacy among young people today. Although I suspect that there is truth in her rants, I get contrary and start thinking of exceptions to her generalization, such as the twenty-year old from a working class family whose emails to me are well-composed, grammatically correct, and show a way with words.

Recently, the group discussed a biography of a famous deceased Canadian author, written by a well-known novelist of today. As the discussion went on, it became apparent that K and others had skimmed the book and had come to conclusions that were not substantiated by the text on the page. She and others also skipped the bibliography which listed the biographer's sources. K complained that the biographer's take on the late great author had destroyed her (K's) illusions and spoiled her enjoyment of the famous author's classic works. I and others pointed out that the biographer had consulted source materials; she hadn't fabricated the life story out of thin air.

The young are not the only ones with poor reading habits. One need not have a degree in English or a knowledge of research methods to read carefully what is printed on the page and to examine all parts of the book in one's hand, including the bibliography, the introduction, the author's bio note and so on.

Now, not all members of the group are of the "head in the sand" school of literary criticism. No one has actually said, "I don't know anything about art [in this case, literary art] but I know what I like," or "I know what I think, don't confuse me with facts." So I think I'll continue with the group, for now, and make nice. I'm learning from being there, though not learning what I anticipated.