If All Seattle Read A Different Book

June 16, 2009 § Leave a comment


It is a measure of Seattle’s endemic middlebrow infantilism that Nancy Pearl, author of the Booklust series, holds such sway over the Seattle reading public. About a decade ago she started Seattle off on the If All Seattle Read The Same Book kick. For someone who knows writers and the world of writing she, and her reading publicity stunts, shows a real callousness towards them. Why not encourage the reading public this way: IF ALL SEATTLE READ A DIFFERENT BOOK. There are thousands of writers published in English each year; encourage the discriminating Seattle reader to look into them. Forget the childish rule of One Book. I don’t see how this dotty little bookmaven can get a large, supposedly well-educated, gentrified city to go along with If All Seattle Read the Same Book. What writers want is for everybody in a city to be reading a different book. Pearl promotes a slightly fascist, pajama-party view of reading culture and literature.

To be fair Pearl does present a wide variety of books in her frequent radio and TV interviews. Even so something rankles about her literary enthusiasms. She misses the hallmark of literary masterpiece: excellent books savage you and drive all other books off the shelf, for a time anyway. A masterpiece enfolds you and takes you over and shoves out of the way all the other books floating in your brain. When I hear Pearl bubbling with delight over the latest detective thriller then moving on to a pre-teen novel I suspect I could never trust her to recognize a true masterpiece. She can go from breathily praising the latest trash detective novel to some new young adult fiction and then onto Toni Morrison’s latest novel and then over to the latest ethnic cookbook without pause. Pearl for all her admirable reading misses the point that a good book drives out all before it. I believe Pearl represents a librarians’ view of books: bring ‘em on, that’s what we’re here for…a Dewey Decimal reading list. For Pearl it doesn’t seem to matter as long as there are words on the page and glue in the bindings. Again, great books drive everything before them: criticism, book clubs, social fashion. Excellent books rage and turn readers inward to pause and then hate all other books, even if only for an hour. Pearl’s multitudinous book enthusiasms are really declarations of Seattle’s hopeless middlebrowness; she has bubbled for too many books.

Every good book carries seeds of criticism within it. Seattle reading culture represents another manifestation of Seattle’s colonial, past twice removed: once a colony of England and now a colony of east coast intellectual fashion. Never though, will Seattle have the confidence to recognize something beautiful and homegrown. Seattle media doesn’t have enough confidence to trust its own reactions to things artistic. It needs the swell of millions of other opinions before it can weigh in with its own non-entity opinion.

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