Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Worth Doing, Worth Reading

Recently, during the probably-too-much time I spend on Instagram, I've been looking at the kinds of things people read. It's interesting. Sort of like lurking in the bookstore watching what people pick up off the shelf. 


Sometimes people post covers of books they just bought. Sometimes they're books they're just starting. Occasionally, they're books they've just read, and they Have Thoughts. Or they don't--they don't know what to make of the book.


One phrase I've seen often, not only on Instgram but on blogs and even Goodreads: "an easy read." Sometimes "a quick read." This is apparently a Good Thing. 


So I am of course going to talk about something else: the "read" that's "worth doing." 


For example, the two books below.




SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE, by Ijeoma Oluo, and THE OVERSTORY, by Richard Powers. Nonfiction and fiction.


SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE is more immediately useful, in that it helps me, an ahem-middle-aged White woman, walk through answers to specific questions about race. I strongly recommend it--and taking the time to sit with each chapter. I found her discussion strategies quite valuable. She excels at answering the objections she imagines her readers to be having. For example--however difficult and "unfair" it may feel to refrain from using language that is offensive, it's far more unfair that people, today, are labeled with those racist terms. People of colour hear those words daily. They shouldn't have to hear them. I can't control everyone, but it's easy (plus common courtesy and basic politeness) for me and everyone I know to not use them. 


THE OVERSTORY is different. It's fiction and thus has a narrative arc that spans time (and plays with a multiverse or two). Also, it's a rich and complicated book about a universe (multiverse) that we all live in and recognize. The "message," although the book isn't really a "message" book, is still a call to action--trees are important, and we have no idea what we're doing when we destroy old-growth forest--but in a different way than Oluo's book.


Of course these books weren't "quick reads," and they weren't "easy reads," either. Which is not to say that they're poorly written--both are lovely, in different ways. 


Oluo has written her book as a frank discussion. It as if someone who cares about you has said, "we need to talk," and is now telling you hard things. Richard Powers (a long-time favourite writer) captures so much about characters so quickly that I grew attached to his characters quickly. I followed their lives, however difficult, with interest, and with the compassion for them that he also obviously feels.


My point is that both books are solid and substantive. They require attention and care. I'm grateful that the writers shared their extensive knowledge with me. 


And oh, the rewards. Sometimes "hard" reads are really worth the effort. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of time and attention for books like these. I do NOT denigrate at ALL the value or allure of books that ARE easy or quick to read. I have read several of those myself since the pandemic started, once I was again able to read at all. 


But some books ARE worth the effort. Reading like this--challenging, illuminating, humbling, inspiring--is worth doing. These books are worth reading.