Reading for Pleasure, Reading for Sustenance

tumblr_ngg7hfjrcs1r6wna6o1_1280I had a few topics I wanted to write about this week, like the secret to walking in heels, tattoos, and drifting away from your friends, but after rereading your post on Django Wexler’s books, I decided I also wanted to write about books.

To be honest, I probably won’t be able to read that series any time soon. I’m still slogging my way through the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge, which unfortunately for me has become the 2015-2016 challenge. I just couldn’t get through all 50+ books in a single year, and it was because of five books in particular. For the challenge I read Dante’s Inferno, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and the first two books of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. To complete the challenge in time, I’d have to read about a book a week and these five books took me way, way longer than a week to tackle. I think I spent a month and a half getting through The Fellowship of the Ring.

On a related note, I now hate hobbits. They sing way too much. The Fellowship was like 10 percent plot, 90 percent unnecessary singing.

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Anyway, I am a bit disappointed I couldn’t finish the challenge in a year, but I’m glad I did take the time to tackle these books. You see, I’m a firm believer that there are two types of books: the books you enjoy reading and the books you should read. Sometimes a book can be both, sometime a book can be neither. The best analogy I can give for this idea is food. There are foods you enjoy eating but give little sustenance, like chips or cookies. There are foods you should eat because they’re good for you, but they’re not very enjoyable, like spinach or cauliflower. Some people don’t like chips and some people really enjoy cauliflower. It’s different for every person when it comes to food and when it comes to books.

Those five books for me were more books I needed read rather than books I wanted to read. I felt like I needed to read them because they play such an integral role in our culture and history. Dante’s Inferno was the foundation for a lot of modern day depictions of hell, The Jungle helped kick off the food safety revolution in the meatpacking industry, Grapes of Wrath is a window into one of the harshest times in American history, and the Lord of the Rings books were some of the first epic fantasy novels. I gained something from reading these books. They were frustrating as hell to get through, but I can say I’ve experienced them first hand and now understand how they affect the world around me.

I didn’t always believe in reading for sustenance. When I was younger I usually stuck to fantasy and horror novels and rarely strayed into the world of classic literature because it was boring. I remember reading A Midsummer’s Night Dream in ninth grade English and telling my teacher I found it pointless. There was no point in reading if it wasn’t enjoyable. 

He told me that I was being short-sighted. Now that I’m older, I understand what he meant.

Sure, I could’ve gotten away with never reading these books. Unlike food, there’s no medical condition associated with an acute Steinbeck-deficiency or lack of Tolkien in my diet. However, reading these books gave me better insight into our society and history and makes my experiences with current media more interesting. I can now play Pathfinder and understand where dwarves from and where we get our ideas about magic use. I can watch movies about hell and pick out the themes from Dante’s Inferno. Continuing with the food analogy, it’s like how learning to cook can make you appreciate food more. You can still enjoy your meal, but knowing what went into it makes it that much more interesting.

So what do you think, Daniel? Do you believe in reading for sustenance?

-EMS

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