Monday, January 25, 2010

Welcome to Book Serf

Welcome to The Book Serf.
I'm excited to get started.
I was going to call this blog The Eucharist of World Literature, after a quote by Saul Bellow, but I thought it might offend Jews and Muslims. Maybe it would even offend Catholics. So I settled on The Book Serf, a nice little play on words (surf and serf) because I am attached to books in the same way serfs were attached to the land. I am, happily, in servitude to books. And in turn, like feudal lords, books sustain me.
Which brings me back to Holy Communion.
In an interview with The Bostonian, Bellow discussed acquiring a “trained sensibility” as a reader, which could only be done, he argued, by taking “certain masterpieces into yourself as if they were communion wafers.”
He continued, “If you don't give literature a decisive part to play in your existence, then you haven't got anything but a show of culture. It has no reality whatever. It's an acceptable challenge to internalize all of these great things, all of this marvelous poetry. When you've done that, you've been shaped from within by these books and these writers.”
To which I say, Amen.
At the Book Serf, we (I'll be assisted by an august cadre of contributors) will write about books we love, regardless of their popularity. We'll be as likely to write about an obscure novelist or poet, or about a reissue of a classic, or about a new small press, as we'll be to weigh in on the latest Stephen King tome.
In fact, we'll probably just skip the latest Stephen King tome altogether.
In a former life, I was the books editor at The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio. In that role, I had the good fortune to talk to hundreds of authors, including our era's great literary curmudgeon, Harold Bloom, he of the disdain for J.K. Rowling and all things Harry Potter.
When I interviewed him in December of 2001, Bloom told me, “Stephen King reviewed the last Harry Potter book for The New York Times Book Review. And he ended his review by saying, 'This is a great book, and it's absolutely wonderful that kids will read it by the millions.' He said that the very best things about the book is, if kids read Harry Potter at 9 and 10 and 11, then when they're 12 and 13 and 14 they'll be ready to read Stephen King.'
“And he's dead right: After they've learned how to read Harry Potter, they'll be ready to read Stephen King; that's what they'll be good for. They will graduate from Harry Potter to Stephen King.
“I rest my case.”
In his book, How to Read and Why (another potential blog named deemed too pretentious!) Bloom suggested a different path from Rowling to King, “to find what truly comes near to you, that can be used for weighing and considering. Read deeply, not to believe, not to accept, not to contradict, but to learn to share in that one nature that writes and reads.”

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