Books that Make You Not Think

We write books that people will enjoy. Or that make people think. Word Salad, especially, was written to make you think. To make you squirm. Not a book to be enjoyed, but endured.

But maybe I’m going about writing the wrong way. Maybe people can postulate their own philosophical beliefs about life and death without reading anything I write, which they can. But then again, I don’t always read to think. Sometimes I read so I don’t have to think.

When I was in the eighth grade, I finished The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, having finally completed every single book by Dickens. I’m not really a Dickens fan- I like Oliver Twist and bits of A Tale of Two Cities– but really I only read the books to seem smart. I’d lug around these huge books and people would gasp, “He MUST be a genius to be reading those.” Of course, I was. But not really. And those books were dreadfully boring. Am I a non-intellecutal for calling Dickens an inherent bore? Maybe, but who cares?

What I really enjoyed was Harry Potter and these very childish fantasy books about owls called The Guardians of Ga’hoole. In eighth grade, I really missed the point of reading. It’s to enjoy stories, not seem smart.

That being said, I don’t dislike tackling the mind-bending books every now and again. But no more archaic Dickens-esque works for me. I must have read nearly every 19th century classic and though I don’t regret it, I could have spent that time reading fun little action books. It affected my writing, made it constrained and wordy.

Recently I read a 1000-page tome called The Instructions. Though intimidating, I picked it up: a troublemaker at a Jewish day school believes he is the Messiah and must save his people from the evil institution of school. If you have an insane amount of time to waste this summer, pick it up.

So should I, as a writer, read for pleasure or to study the craft?? The answer: BOTH! Take poetry for example. I could slave away all day deciphering T.S. Eliot’s work, but I don’t want to. I wish not to spend my free time doing overly scholarly things. It’s not that I don’t highly respect Eliot, but if I want to read poetry for fun, I will pick up Billy Collins or some light poetry chap book I bought somewhere.

Those poems written by college students in small town, they’re the best poems. Because they’re not paid to write them, have no deadlines. There’s no pressure to write a good poem. The only reason these poems are written is because the poets felt like they needed writing. And maybe, hopefully, I will never write something just to make a few bucks. I only want to tell stories people want to hear.

So read stories you’d like to hear. Right now, I’m reading two books: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (British comedy writer= hilarious!!) and probably my worst self-indulgence, another book from the Sookie Stackhouse series. “WHAT?” you may ask. A smart young man like you who likes to discuss the higher echelons of literature wastes his time reading flashy vampire novels after which the show True Blood was based? Yes, I do. I’m even a little ashamed about how good I think these books are. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

You don’t have to spend your summer devouring a 600 page book about the history of Ethiopian pottery. (Unless you really like Ethiopian pottery). No, it’s summer, so kick back and relax and read something funny. Read something “mainstream.” Read something trashy, even Twilight if you enjoy it. I know, what a sin! Well, personally, I intend to read a teen series this summer. It has been a very long time since I’ve read a novel meant for young adults, but typically I despise books marketed at us. I feel like most of them are condescending and trendy.

But I’ve heard too much good about The Hunger Games to pass it up. Not to mention… in eighth grade, when I didn’t tote my intellectual literature, I would secretly read the last series by Suzanne Collins called Gregor the Overlander. But that can be our little secret. So what books are you planning to read this summer? Are you going to do an intense analysis of all of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work? Or maybe rereading the Harry Potter books before the last film? Either way, enjoy reading and don’t make it into a task.

Quote of the day: “The whole human race was turning its back on a search for a meaning for life and had opted for languid insignificance. Why seek a greater plan when you can rot away in the freezer room of a liquor store vaporizing light bulbs?”

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on May 31, 2011, in books, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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