Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Friday, August 26, 2005

New Flinstones Chewable Books

Are books entertainment, or a necessary part of a healthy, active lifestyle? That's the question raised by a recent story about a former Spice Girl's admission that she's never read a book in her life and the reactions to it.

The BBC reported:

"Victoria Beckham says she has never read a book in her life. It's a common trait - one in four adults say books aren't for them.

'I haven't read a book in my life,' the ex-Spice Girl has told a Spanish journalist. 'I haven't got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines.'

Posh is not alone in her rejection of books. For every three Britons with their noses in a bestseller, there's one adult in the UK who does not read books at all.

Research by the Office for National Statistics, commissioned by the National Reading Campaign in 2001, found a quarter of adults had not read a book in the previous 12 months. The figure rose to almost half among males aged 16-24.

This is despite soaring book sales - up 19% in the UK in the five years to 2004.

Julia Strong, director of the government-funded National Reading Campaign, says reading habits are formed early.

'Children copy what they see and if you don't come from a reading home, or haven't been read to as a child, there's a much stronger chance you won't read yourself.'"

Then a writer named Hester Lacey wrote a little piece in The Guardian:

"I do believe it. I think there are plenty of people out there who don't read books and who are none the worse for it - my mum for one. "

"However, it's fine for anyone to confess that they really can't stick shopping; one can even seem quite smug about it. Not so if you aren't keen on books. Reading must be about the only pastime that is pretty much universally seen as "good" and virtuous - so to say openly that you don't like books puts you beyond the pale. For someone to say they don't care for reading labels them as some kind of thickie pariah, fair game for any insult. To decide any such thing on the basis of one single trait seems both sweeping and snobbish."

On his blog, Scott Esposito called Lacey's piece "an apologia for Posh Spice, Noel Gallagher, and anyone else who doesn't care to read."

He went on by writing, "Similarly, reading is not just another way to kill time or 'exercise the mind,' and to group it along with any other distraction available to us is to misunderstand what reading is all about. A love of good books--be they fiction or nonfiction--requires a curiosity about the world and a determination to understand some part of it. Even though we most often read by ourselves, falling into a good book is a potent way to feel connected to the world around you. It reminds you that there are parts of the world that you can relate to and enjoy.

Whatever the virtues of crosswords, Sudoku, and other time-killers, I don't think they create and fill the need for empathy the way a good book can. I would even argue that other storytelling mediums--TV, film, the theater--don't achieve quite what reading does (they do, however, do very distinct, worthwhile things in their own ways)."

I have never read a book seeking empathy with anyone in the book or anyone actually alive. What empathy is generated by reading biographies of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin; true crime stories or fiction with characters of questionable moral virtue?

It seems to me that books disconnect you from the world, especially fiction, which is escapism.

All art is entertainment. Reading is a leisure time activity that people engage in to be entertained. Reading, as an activty, is not better or worse for you than other forms of entertainment and does not provide moral uplift.

It always amuses me that fervent advocates of the value of both religion and books are always trying to come up with pragmatic justifications for the value of their own habits. Religionists love to sieze on stories about how people who attend church live longer or how some clinical study (which is later shown to be invalid) proves that praying for the sick helps them heal or some such nonsense. Similarly, people who love books try to convince people who don't enjoy them that there are other reasons to read. They make you a better person.

People don't have to be convinced to do anything that yields immediate pleasure with little effort. You don't have to convince people to eat dessert or have sex. Have you ever wondered why there are no programs for excessive praying or overreading?

The Not-So-Great Raid

I never fail to marvel at the ingenuity of people in marketing. What do you do with a war film that's been sitting on the shelf for two years because it's a smelly piece of shit? Flush it down the cable/DVD toilet? No. You put The Great Raid's director on a tour of right wing radio shows, where the film is touted as an exciting patriotic epic and naysayers like The New York Times' Stephen Holden are portrayed as liberal whiners who hate the film because it celebrates our troops' victory.

Here's reviewer Daniel Carlson's opinion.

"Sitting on the shelf for a couple of years, The Great Raid is one the films getting dumped on an unsuspecting public in the wake of the Weinsteins’ split with parent company Disney.

Whether it’s war films, westerns, Star Trek movies, or porn, there exists a guaranteed consumer for every film, an audience member who will show up simply because of what the movie claims to be. It is this simple viewer, this loyal but blind American, that will most benefit from The Great Raid, a plodding, dull, methodical example of how not to make a war movie. The kind of men and women who TiVo hours of the History Channel will feel right at home watching director John Dahl’s overlong, tedious tale of the rescue mission at the Cabanatuan POW camp months before the end of World War II. Anyone requiring an engaging narrative should look elsewhere."

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