Sandra, Mrs Book World to you, thinks she has Bloom Syndrome:

I think I have Bloom Syndrome: a condition in which the sufferer is unable to read any work of literature unless it is deemed Significant by Harold Bloom and which often results in the reader losing the will to live/read, crushed under the weight of canonical imperatives. The Syndrome develops gradually with the sufferer firstly accepting the notion that some books are better than others, placing undue emphasis on books which have won prizes or been favourably reviewed by The Clever People in newspapers. This begins the descent into genre deprecation in which all romance/chick lit is dismissed as unreadable, followed gradually by an inability to stomach any fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and finally, mystery novels (these are the last genre to be abandoned because Clever People occasionally admit to reading them as a guilty pleasure). Thereafter sufferers quickly develop Classic monomania, a state of mind in which the literary tastes of the now emaciated reader have become so distorted that she can take only small doses of books endorsed by His Bloomness as being Works Of Genius. If left untreated, the Syndrome can result in a fatal loss of the love of reading.

Her suggested self-cure is reading "a book for pure pleasure irrespective of the name on the cover or what The Clever People think of it." But I don't understand this. I'm with Steve, I only ever read for pleasure, and I don't understand this talk of "guilty pleasures". Further, I don't understand how and why "engaging fully and thoughtfully" with a book is deemed to be synonymous with that book being difficult or arcance and the reading of it a source of displeasure:

Of course, this philistine drivel flows from the assumption that Great Art is a Platonic realm and good for you like a sermon, while "guilty pleasures" are what we'd all prefer to engage in instead. When I read litbloggers on this subject, for example the otherwise excellent LitKicks just the other day, it's like they've been taken over by the Nick Hornby hypnotoad. It isn't about snobbery but making the distinction between an ephemeral need and what is needed at the deepest level. How many times does it need saying? If a mass-market, blockbuster paperback offers to fulfil the latter need, then please tell us about it!

This is why I read litblogs, to find the books I need to read on a very personal level. As I don't read mass-market, blockbuster paperbacks, I'm open to convincing suggestions. I'm not a snob you see. I'm happy to "confess" that I watch lots of trash TV. Top Gear and Most Haunted are among my favourites (even though I don't drive or believe in ghosts). But if I'm going to write here about what I watch, I'd prefer to write about Eloge de l'Amour. Not because I'm "ashamed" of the others or because I'm trying to put up an intellectual front, but for the same reason restaurant critics write about eating the finest food and not about shitting it out.

Readers Comments

  1. I'm totally with you and Steve on this, Mark. There's an anti-intellectualism here which somehow becomes frightening to me, as if one isn't "of the people" or one isn't capable of humanity and pleasures (more than just a hint that one is merely a pompous non-human and incapable of pleasure at all because one chooses to read Proust over Nicky Hornby.) It's scary sometimes. I also felt that happening in the comment made on Normblog which seemed to enjoy dismissing some of the best and deepest thoughts I've read for a long time on the missing contemporary awareness of multi-culturalism in Arab/Jewish cultural history (your latest interview with the very wonderful Peter Cole). I don't know where this thinking leads but feel its dangers. Both politically (as simplistic thinking like this continues to contribute to Bush-like statements about war and domestic issues) and to writing, the arts. Just wanted to add my two cents. I guess, because I keep hearing the same stuff. One is thought of as being democratic and a real person as long as one doesn't delve into complex literature and ideas and then the assertion that delving into complexity, whether in literature or pure thought is a symptom of a total lacking capacity for "real" pleasure, a sign only of stuffy elitism. Wow, it's hard to listen to.

    Also, I'm someone who loves watching reruns of "Law and Order" and lots of grade B-movies.) How would that cancel out my love of complex ideas and literature anyway? Why the false cultural battle over this? Virginia Woolf and Proust wrote unabashedly about loving to go to theater plays?

  2. Dear Mark,
    Maybe I should get a life or something, but until you mentioned her I'd never heard of this Sandra woman.
    Refer her to Virginia Woolf's classic essay in The Common Reader, 'How should one Read a Book?' and move on.
    Love, Tony

  3. Sandra McDonald Thursday 08 March 2007

    Well, I don't really think I shirk my share of complex literature and I have indeed read a lot of Virginia Woolf's essays including the one which has been recommended by Tony; my point is that I had allowed my reading to be hi-jacked by the notion that certain books are canonical and should be read above and before all others and in spite of one's personal response to them. At the moment I am a third of the way through The Brothers Karamazov and although agreeing that it is intellectually interesting, it is not, for me, a pleasurable read. My humorous/self-mocking post was to tell myself not to get hung up on the book's status and to move on to something more personally pleasurable.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Sandra. I am sorry I didn't see the "self-mocking" aspect of your post and do understand what you're pointing out. There has been of late, a great deal of what I feel is not "self-mocking" but simply mocking of those for whom serious literature IS a pleasure (pleasure is such a relative term) and I apologize of I was over-reacting to your post. It just came from a general feeling of frustration and some sadness in me about the trend of mocking I was seeing all over the place.

  5. Sandra very wittily gets at a big dilemma of reading--it's not mine. I suffer from another--that I tend to shirk the classics, fearing a lack of pleasure to be found there--only to find, again and again, that classic often means beloved.

    Oh, Harold Bloom!! By the time I took a class from him, the glory days had passed and being in the room with him was like, as my friend said, "really good public t.v." That is, decidedly middlebrow. When he is a real person to you, he becomes more like his beloved Falstaff than Jehovah.

    Did you know that he wrote a sci-fi novel of his own in the 70s? (He had it pulped. It was, apparently, very bad and silly.)

    And there was a very funny little mini-interview with him 2 weeks ago in Newsweek in which he was asked to list his five most important books, the book he most cared to share with his children (Lewis Carroll's 2 greats) and the classic he had never read (there are none, he asserted). Very funny. I'm too lazy to find the link. Cheers!--Anne

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