The New York Times Sunday Review published an article by Pamela Paul titled “Why You Should Read Books You Hate.” Paul argues that trying to force yourself to get through a piece of literature you despise may actually be beneficial for you, as it can enrich and develop your own opinions and stances:
As debaters know, sometimes you figure out your position only in opposition. All it takes is for me to read a book by Howard Zinn or Paul Johnson, each gleefully hate-worthy in its own polarizing way, to locate my own interpretation of history. This is what’s so invigorating about hate-reading. To actively grapple with your assumptions and defend your conclusions gives you a sense of purpose. You come to know where you stand, even if that means standing apart.
Though I do agree with the text’s main idea, it has some striking fallacies which I’d like to discuss. For someone who works in literary studies, it’s obvious that reading is bound with a precise analysis to achieve a deep understanding of a text’s context, ideology, misconceptions; its problems in general. Although such “professional reading” must be objective, I believe that reading for your own pleasure can benefit greatly from adopting a similar perspective. What I find problematic in Paul’s article is her insistence on the word “hate.” She doesn’t abandon that rhetoric to the end of the text, and in the penultimate paragraph she even writes, “[y]et hate reading can actually bring readers together.”
I mean, seriously? What’s the point in holding on to such hostility? At one point Paul seems to agree that reading should be more about challenging your worldview but then it all goes down to assuring yourself in your beliefs. Behind every, even the most problematic and loathed piece of literature there’s a system of contextual and ideological aspects which contributed to such outlook. Reading such works should not result in maintaining our hostility towards them but it should allow us to understand why it made us feel that way and what conclusions can we draw from it.
All I’m saying is; less hate, more understanding. Studying literature is a great tool for making our society a little bit more humane and enlightened.
Paul mentioned reading Ayn Rand as an example; it happens that recently I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and there’s a lot I’d like to say about it. I guess it’s a topic for an another post which will probably appear here in the nearest future.