May 13, 2008

Mikita Brottman Is A Big Whiner

I'd never heard of her before, so I hope her book does about that well. It's called The Solitary Vice: Against Reading and no, I'm not linking to it. It's not available yet anyway. I read an excerpt in a magazine because hey, I'm open-minded. If someone has some good reason why, as she claims, "books are overrated" I'll listen to see if they have anything of substance to say. It's always good to examine your preconceptions and I'm obviously on the side of books are awesome. She apparently has a column over at the Huffinton post where she writes about how great Kindles are (Amazon's clunky little ebook reader) and books are crap.

Her writing comes off as some smart-alecky undergrad who just discovered that being contentious will cause controversy and that's almost like having something to say. She throws the little thought bombs around; Kindles are good, books are bad, autistic people are weird and I wouldn't hire one. Not the stuff of great debate.

The only evidence against reading she presents is her own miserable youth. She describes herself as a voracious reader of horror fiction, then complains "in terms of emotional development, books didn't help me at all." What a surprise. I'm not bashing horror fiction, I also was a big fan at that age and knew all the reference she made from H.P. Lovecraft to Melmoth the Wanderer. But I also came out of my room, played with other kids and read the occasional non-horror (even non-fiction) book. She writes: "Eventually, my mother gave up trying to coax me down for meals, and, apart from school, the only time I left my bedroom during the day was to renew my library books." Yeah, listen to your parents. She said she should have listened to her dad "and spent more time in the company of other human beings." That might have helped.

She was an awkward teen "with greasy skin and tragic hair" and socially maladroit. I can relate. But instead of trying to navigate this world with these minor flaws, she retreated to the world of books. It could have easily been television or religion or art or a million things. It wasn't the books that held her prisoner, it was herself. "I was paralyzed by fantasy, crippled by self-loathing, self-doubting inhibition--a problem that's never completely disappeared, and probably never will."

I'm not arguing that all books are equally great. I'm arguing that it wasn't the books (or even types of books) that screwed her up. She was already screwy, she's just mad the books didn't help. The thing is, she knows it. "If you're a balanced, discriminating reader, the books you read can make you more interested in moral and political questions, more active, articulate, and engaged." Thank you!

So she's screwed up. She doesn't need to whine about it. It's not just the books she whines about: "I could write, albeit in a fussy and pretentious style (which I can't seem to entirely shake off, as you may have noticed."

I noticed.