Tuesday, May 17, 2011

valueless books

A life being short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books. - John Ruskin

I've been thinking about this quote with a sense of an inexorable fate awaiting me, in books that will turn out to be a complete waste of time. As a fiction editor for an online 'zine, this extends not only to books but to a number of interminable submissions which one reads out of a sense of duty although it's obvious from the beginning that they are terrible.* And then it is the modern world, and we are bombarded with constant information, titillating linkage, and the means for procrastination. It's inevitable.

I have, however, made up my mind to change at least one of my ways, because I think John Ruskin, whoever he is, is right. There is so much that should be read out there, and even more that should be ignored. And life is short. And we should be discerning.

So from now on, I will not follow one of my oldest rules. No more will I struggle my way through novels which I hate from very early on, simply because there is some perceived merit in not 'quitting'. As a wizened old 24 year old, I have come to realise that Time is running out!!

This thinking partly comes from a weekend away on a church camp. Now, I am aware that most of the people who find their way to this blog post will probably not be Christians. All the same, I think that a Bible verse that has dug itself into my head over the last week will probably resound with people of many different faiths or lack thereof. It is this verse:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

It's an instruction that subverts instruction itself, and I rather like it. The writer (Paul) refuses to set hard-and-fast rules about how we should spend our time, and he doesn't approve of turning pleasure into moralism - and yet, he recognises, much like John Ruskin, that time is limited and that we have choices to make.**

I've been wondering how I can apply these thoughts to this blog and my choice to review books. Generally what happens is this: I receive monthly newsletters from a couple of publishing companies, and I can email a few contacts and ask for a few books off each list. Up until now, my choices have been based on what I think I should be reviewing. From now on, I think my choices will be based on pure enjoyment and/or interest. I've reviewed a few books that were so disappointing that I really felt like I had scored negative points on the Is Your Life Worthwhile test. And the feeling was even more vivid after I finished the fantastic novel Russian Winter recently and felt utterly depressed about picking up any book that was less satisfying.

So... my reviews may lessen. But I will enjoy them more. I hope.

* I would just like to say that this does not apply to the majority of the submissions we receive, thank goodness.
** Disclaimer: I do not think that the writer is saying that we should ignore everything that is hard or sad or horrible in the world.

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