The Summer of Hand-wringing About America's Reading Habits continues apace with Tim Parks of the New York Review of Books arguing against what his title calls "reading upward."
In short, Parks rejects the idea that if you spend your time reading Twilight, Fifty Shades of Gray, or even Stieg Larsson, they might lead you to Dickens, Faulkner, or Joyce.
This has always struck me as an empirical sort of question and one it would be nice to read a properly sourced study on. Parks has mostly rhetorical questions on offer:
Do people really pass from Fifty Shades of Grey to Alice Munro? (Through how many intermediate steps? Never to return?)
Though he also seems aware that he'd be better off with hard data, he has none other than:
With no studies or statistics available to settle the question—at least I have not come across any—I can only resort to anecdotal evidence, as a father of three and a university teacher for many years. And the first thing to say is that no one has ever spoken to me of making this progression.
Huh. Well, I guess I'll step up and be the first.
Fifty Shades did not exist when I was a young reader but I did manage to get from V.C. Andrews to Alice Munro, a comparable journey. My intermediate steps went all over the map, to L.M. Montgomery and Thomas Hardy, R.L. Stine and Anne Michaels. I was handed Munro in school, of course, but I do sort of think of the entire of my reading history as cumulative. Certainly, I can't go back to Flowers in the Attic at this point without noticing Andrews's failings as a, uh, prose stylist.
I guess I did not realize that this was an unusual path to take.
Am I just a stooge of the kind of marketing-speak Parks identifies as the main source of this wisdom? Was I just indoctrinated by some kind of evil Canadian socialist "kids should read more" campaign? Am I some kind of reading mutant? Is this why I just can't get as upset about YA fiction as every other self-respecting NYRB subscriber out there?
[Image via Shutterstock.]
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