I just read an article from The Atlantic online called A Slow-Books Manifesto and wanted to add my addendum to it.
Writer Maura Kelly refers to The Slow-Book Movement whose “sole purpose is to reawaken modern society to the pleasures of slowing down to read, and savor, good literature.”
And there, we have the problem. What’s “good literature”? Slow-book movement founder Alexander Olchowski says he knows, although it looks as if he only knows that his own book is worthy. But the idea of slowing down to read a book instead of going to a movie or watching television while it isn’t new is valid. The idea that the only book worth reading is “good literature” isn’t.
Let’s skip the arguments by feminists and racial groups that the Literary Canon is too male-dominated and go to the heart of the matter: What makes a book worthy of the title “literature”?
The basic seems to be that the work transcend time and culture, and must be based on and capture human experience. Love, it seems, unless it’s thwarted, is spurned, or pitilessly stomped out, is not a human experience especially if it’s feminine, hopeful, or enduring. Love must create darkness, not light, to be literary.
Back to slow books, this means to read “good” literature, a person must steep herself in doomed love affairs. If the heroine throws herself under a train, all the better. But if she lives happily ever after, she’s not living in “good” literature.
That doesn’t make sense to me. Rochester doesn’t have to be blind for Jane’s love to be true. (His wife does need to be dead, however.) Maryanne doesn’t have to settle for Brandon because her heart has been trammeled. And the unnamed heroine doesn’t have to be unnamed to find love while her predecessor Rebecca is on everyone’s lips.
So my addendum is simple: Let’s adopt a slow-book manifesto that has us reading books that make us feel better, more hopeful when we finish them. Let’s read books that make us examine relationships not in darkness, but in light. Let’s read books that may seem too optimistic to be believed, but books that make us optimistic when we finish reading them.
Let’s try to put our finger on that most elusive of human experiences: love.
In other words, let’s rename “good” literature “optimistic” literature. Let’s let romance legitimately into our reading lives and rejoice.
- Pat Henshaw