Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As Seen on Twitter: Never Read for Enjoyment... Say What?

Today on Twitter, Katy ( who blogs at A Few More Pages and tweets from @afewmorepages) shared this quote which caught my attention:

"You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid."
                                   -- John Waters

First of all, I had to look up John Waters, not being at all familiar with him. I guess he is a film dude and comedian? And he says some pretty blunt and controversial, but funny, things? Yes? I have no idea.

Anyway, this quote is interesting to me for many reasons.

Reason #1: First it says we shouldn't read for enjoyment, but to be smarter. At first I thought this was an argument against fiction, but the rest of the quote contradicts this. I, for one, mostly read for pure enjoyment. However, I think it makes me "smarter" (a relative term) by default. Reading, no matter what it is, just does that, don't you think? But still, can't our goal be to read just for enjoyment? I think so yes.

Reason#2: Pick hard books. I do agree with this one a little... I think we need a bit of a challenge now and then. Of course, "hard" will be different for all of us, don't you think? So we shouldn't judge what people are reading thinking it's a silly easy book.. because for them, it just may be hard. It's kind of like what the kids learn at school... just right books, and books that are too hard or too easy. We all know what that is for us.

Reason #3: "I can't read fiction, I only have time for the truth." Wow. I heard this one just recently and it was interesting to try and argue against this mindset. It makes me sad. Non-fiction is great, but so is fiction. I say, there can be a nice balance between the two, and that you CAN still learn stuff from fiction... LOTS of stuff.

Reason#4: Literature is fiction.... fiction is literature. What? Do some people confuse these terms? Do some people really consider literature as not fiction? I don't get this. What is literature then if it's not fiction? It includes fiction... and everything else of the written word. That's what I think anyway.

So... what do you think? Do you agree with this quote? Disagree? A little of both? What do you say to people who seem to have the attitude that John Waters is "upset" about?

Thanks to Katy for a tweet that made me think today!


  1. If I couldn't read for enjoyment - and I enjoy reading all kinds of books- I wouldn't read at all. Why do something you don't enjoy?

  2. My husband and I were just talking about this subject in a roundabout way two days ago!!

    We were talking about the influences of fiction on technology and science (ie, Star Trek communications, Minority Reports eye scanners and thumb pad readers - you know the high tech stuff that just seems to unreal.) As my husband said, the authors have done the majority of the work- they've dreamed it up, marketed it (by finding a use for it and a way to make it necessary so it can be sold) and that's most of the work. Now someone (some engineer-type) just needs to figure out how to make it.

    I NEVER thought of it that way before!! It made my reading of fiction, sci fi and fantasy totally worthwhile.

    So, Mr. John Waters, give it up for the creativity of fiction and sit back and enjoy the fruits of others dreams and labors.

    Love it.

  3. That last point on the twitter statement makes no sense. Do people really think literature is not fiction??

  4. Honestly, I'm not sure what he's trying to get at. Is he being satirical? Or, is he being serious? I need to hear this is context before I full understand what he's trying to say, lol.

    But, I think people should read what they want to read without worrying about being judged for it. If you don't like fiction, fine. If you don't like fantasy, fine. If you don't like contemporary fiction, fine. Don't read it if you don't want to but let those that do read it in peace.

  5. Waters says 'you should never read JUST for enjoyment.' or only for the sake of enjoyment. and I agree, as I have benefited from this kind of encouragement. so he isn't saying not to read for enjoyment, just don't ONLY read for the sake of enjoyment.

    I agree w/ you that "hard" will mean something different to each of us, and I heard "I've only time for the truth," fairly recently as well. as if non-fiction is necessarily true--but that is another long subject for another day. you can learn real things, but you also learn true things from fiction (and in an often more palatable venue).

    I'll have to think on R#4 more, because like you. I don't really get it, as I've never heard someone make the claim that Lit isn't fiction. Perhaps, he is arguing for the non-Lit classified books as having value, too, especially in their ability to reveal truth? Is he addressing two crowds, both the bit and little L[iterature] readers?

    this was a good post Suey, thought-provoking and engaging. I appreciate you sharing the quote and your response to it.


  6. Well, some of the greatest lessons I've learned have been from fiction books so does that make them "hard" books? I like to read "hard for me" books to stretch my mind once and awhile so I guess I agree that we shouldn't JUST read for enjoyment but to each their own. And no one better judge my reading habits because I NEVER judge theirs. ;)

  7. I get the impression what he meant by saying literature is fiction is to remind people that those who read what they consider "smart" or "snobby" or "high brow" or "classic" or whatever you want to call it literature, that is fiction as well. Those books we all read in HS that were supposed to make us smarter, that's fiction too. At least, that's what I was thinking when I read it.

    I read "only" for enjoyment. Most of the time, though, I don't sit down and think "I'm only reading for enjoyment right now" or "Now I'm going to learn something from this book." Seriously, who does that?

  8. I've been thinking about this more. I do like reading nonfiction and learning about things, just because I'm so curious about the world. But if the book isn't interesting and entertaining, I'm not going to read it, or get much out of it if I do. So I say it should be both- teach you and entertain you.

  9. Inside: That is an interesting topic! We were just talking about Star Trek the other day and that nearly every cool thing they have, we now have.

    Jenni: I'm sure he's being a bit sarcastic... or something. But yeah, the context would be interesting.

    L: The whole is fiction true too or not conversation IS a whole post for another day, isn't it! I think you are right on the reason#4... I think. :)

    Jenny: I think we learn many lessons from the easy books too.

    Melissa: My guess is your definition of literature is what he was thinking too... very good explanation!

    Jeane: Yes, that's what I say too!

    Thanks for all the comments everyone!

  10. I think you can pick up a book thinking it's going to be for pure enjoyment and end up learning quite a lot! So I don't really get this attitude, TBQH

  11. I sometimes read just for fun, and other times I read books that I suspect I will learn something new from. Both have their place.

    I too am a bit perplexed by the fiction and literature part of it though.

  12. Here's how I read it:

    He's not saying that you can't/shouldn't read for enjoyment, but that you shouldn't *only* read for enjoyment. The sentences after that indicate that books don't have to teach you huge lessons, but things as small as being able to better understand other people or yourself. I think you can actually learn something from *any* book that you read if you think about it, and I think that's partly what he's getting at--that you should think about what you're reading.

    The other parts I think he's picking apart different kinds of book snobbery (though not in an especially clear way). I can't really speak for the 'hard books' part--I have to concentrate on any book I'm reading, really. But I think he is possibly saying that some books are better than others (which I don't really agree with).

    The fiction = truth part is putting non-fiction & fiction on the same level. And I think the literature = fiction part is speaking to people who put literature on a higher pedestal than genre fiction, and he's pointing out that literature is fiction too. Again, putting them on the same level.

  13. Amy: I say EXACTLY to your comment too! :)

    Marg: I know, it's a strange bit to add there at the end.

    Katy: Thanks for coming on over and adding your thoughts! I loved them. I've totally enjoyed picking apart this quote and pondering things.

  14. and yet, aren't most of his movies for 'enjoyment', ie entertainment? whatever.

    I do enjoy quotes that say fiction is more truth than reality. "You can't make this stuff up."




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