Can refusing to read a book bring us pleasure? Dan Piepenbring thinks so.
There are writers we instinctively, permanently dislike: not only will we never read them, we will quietly relish the not-reading, finding in it a pleasure that can occasionally rival reading itself...all of us harbor, somewhere, a list of those toward which we feel an inexplicable animus. At the top of my list, ironically enough, is Charles Bukowski, who Jones singles out as “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel.” I have for many years now actively enjoyed not reading Charles Bukowski. I want to say with conviction that Bukowski is not so much a voice from hell as a voice from Hell-Lite™, a kind of flimsy, adolescent imitation of true misanthropy—but I have no evidence to furnish in my case against him. How could I? I’ve never read him. All I know is that I’ve listened to a tepid Modest Mouse song about him; I have spoken to a stranger at a bar who told me she’d “snort his words off the page,” if she could; and I’ve sneered at the cover of Ham on Rye in a Park Slope Barnes and Noble. If you asked me to mount a cogent defense of my antipathy, I’d have to say something pretentious like “I find his role in the culture banal.”
I can muster the same scorn for Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck Klosterman, and probably a handful of other Chucks, too. (Don’t get me started on the Jonathans.) And I’m not above taking pleasure in the fact that I’ve never read Danielle Steel, though I have no grounds to take pleasure in this, and it leaves me wide open to charges of elitism. I can’t be stopped. It’s like a perverse form of that old Greenspanian irrational exuberance.
Then there’s the larger circle of books that arouse mere indifference in me: the top three novels on the New York Times’s hardcover best-seller list at the moment are fine examples. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—I have no plans to read any of these. Each has, through the vagaries of the marketing process, done something to recuse itself.