At what point in our literary history did it become desirable to devour books, gobble them up, or have them go down smoothly? When did the idea of a “good read” come to connote something blandly palatable, soothing and diversionary? (Here, see Kirsty Gunn, who has written a great piece for The Guardian about “the terrible rigor mortis of the phrase that is ‘a good read’.”)
Perhaps it’s time to make a case for the “bad read.” (I can see it now: a mirror site for goodreads. It would feature all those terribly demanding books that have dared take us to the frontier of the familiar. Catch-22, Pastoralia, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1Q84, Sexing the Cherry, The Accidental…) Yes, bring on the bad reads. Bring on those lousy good-for-nothing novels that embrace novelty, possibility, and surprise. Let’s hear it for god-awful fiction that believes anything can happen—that captures the weird, the awkward, the complicated, the downright bizarre…in all its ghastly glory.
(Excerpted from a guest post in which I discuss the value of literary estrangement and one of my favorite Canadian writers…with thanks to the good people at the 49th Shelf.)
Image: Olaf Hayek