Jun 24

A rant on on people who think they know what you should and shouldn’t read; CallMeIshmael; The Quick and The Painter


Call Ishmael. Really.


We just learned about a very cool site, CallMeIshmael, that we love. It’s a site where you can call and leave a short voicemail that tells a story about a book. The site is video, but also works as audio, and we’ve gotten permission to play one of the voicemails on this episode. But if you’re reading the show notes, do check out the site itself to get the full (very cool) experience. The entry we played on the podcast is The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.


audiobooksAudiobook of the week (07:49):


I know why the caged bird singsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, written and read by Maya Angelou, is my pick for this week’s Audiobooks.com Audiobook of the Week.

Special thanks to Audiobooks.com for sponsoring this episode of Books on the Nightstand.

Audiobooks.com allows you to listen to over 40,000 audiobooks, instantly, wherever you are, and the first one is free. Download or stream any book directly to your Apple or Android device. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and free audiobook download by going to www.audiobooks.com/freebook


Read whatever the *%$# you want (14:15):


A rant. Between this Slate article on Young Adult novels and the reviews mentioned in this Vanity Fair piece about Donna Tartt, we have had it up to here with people trying to dictate what others should and shouldn’t read. We believe that you should read whatever brings you pleasure. For those of us who are not professional critics, it is more than possible to read a book that is less than perfect yet still enjoy the read.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, for a special listener voicemail show. Please call our voicemail line: (209) 867-7323, and let us know what you think. We’ll play a selection of responses on an upcoming episode.

Two books we can’t wait for you to read (31:14):


The Quick      The Painter

Michael recommends The Quick by Lauren Owen. He absolutely loves it, and absolutely can’t tell you much about it.  A crumbling manor house outside of London in the late 1800s, a disappearance, and a secret society should be enough to whet your appetite for The Quick.

My pick for this week is The Painter by Peter Heller. I love this novel so much, even more than I loved The Dog Stars, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. I think this is a book that will appeal to so many of you: those of you who love beautiful sentences, those that like intriguing characters, those that love great descriptions of the landscape, and all of you that love a fully-realized story. Don’t miss this one.

  • Melissa

    Read the first few pages of The Quick last night! Now I am even more eager to read it, because I always seem to love the books Michael recommends.

  • silentsgirl

    I loved the rant on reading whatever you want. I read the first article you mentioned (but not the second, or The Goldfinch), and blogged about it at the time.


    Some folks didn’t get the point of my post – I wasn’t disrespecting adults who read YA. I was stating how I *personally* felt when my parents tried to be “cool” by attempting (and failing) to fit in with my peer group. Like many teenagers then and now, I was mortified by them. I then explained why I *personally* don’t attend midnight releases of YA titles, even if I wish to read those titles later. Reading is such a joyous thing – why anyone would want to dissuade anyone else from reading *anything* is beyond me.

    • Love your take on this; thanks for sharing. My 15 year-old will sometimes tell me to read books she’s loved, but only if she thinks I will like them. My younger child seems to be skipping YA almost completely, choosing to read classics and SF&F written for adults, most of which are recommended to her by my husband or myself.

  • dogearedcopy

    I’m always surprised at how much attention certain posts get on the internet. You know the kind: some Nobody writes something hateful and/or stupid and/or throws a temper tantrum of some sort; and all of the sudden the original poster gets their fifteen minutes of fame and maybe a few klout points. Who *really* would take an anti-Adults-Reading-YA scree seriously? I guess it’s the nature of the internet; but my position is to ignore these kinds of posts and not feed into the furor. Get off the internet and go read whatever you want. And if it happens to be YA (or a Romance novel or a Zombie Thriller or whatever), and somebody has a problem with that, it’s exactly that, “their* problem. And, of course, I’d like to see them try and stop me: You can pry my novel from my cold dead hands.

    Dogeared Copy/Tanya

  • jayne190

    I think part of the problem is that due to the proliferation of blogs and Facebook and Twitter, etc., everybody has an opportunity to express their opinion, whether you agree or disagree with the opinion of the author of typed out the piece. I think everybody should Drop Everything And Read (and stop getting your knickers in knot).

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  • Ruth Graham did an interview on NPR that I think clarified her pov. The Slate article did what it was intended to do- cause a kerfuffle – and the way it was promoted did nothing to add to the conversation about whether or not all books are equal.

    I agree, however, that book snobbery is a poor way to deal with ‘critiquing’ the quality of literature.

  • Mo86

    I keep trying to love this podcast and I keep having to stop because of the overwhelming liberal bias. I’ve been ignoring it for the most part, but I can’t be silent anymore.

    First, I had to pause on #287 when Orson Scott Card was mentioned right after the child abuse scandal of Marion Zimmer Bradley. As far as I know, the only thing OSC did was offer an opinion disagreeing with same-sex “marriage”. How is that REMOTELY comparable to child abuse?! It’s not even worthy to be included in a show titled ‘Separating Authors from Their Work’ because disagreeing with SSM is not morally abhorrent, like child molestation. So why would you need to separate the author from his work in this case? If he’d said something along the lines of “Homosexuals need to be killed” or something like that, I could understand it. But as far as I know, he’s said nothing like that.

    Lumping him in with child rapists is not only insulting to the author, but to all of us who disagree with same-sex “marriage”.

    And now with #286, I had to stop when the host mentions being angry when people object to what may be objectionable content in a book, especially when it comes to their kids reading things. Why is it her place to be angry when parents speak out about explicit reading being assigned to their children? They have every right to do so.

    I’ll try a few more podcasts, but this is getting so disappointing.

    • You are of course free to disagree, agree, listen or not listen, but I want to clarify my own thoughts on what you said about #286. I have no problem with parents choosing or monitoring what their own children read. It is also a parent’s right to not allow their own child to read something assigned, and for that parent to talk to the school and come up with an alternative. But when it reaches beyond that and one parent determines what is appropriate for all other children in a class/school/district to read, that is where I object.

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  • angelbis

    I agree that people should read whatever they want! I think that literary snobbery is all too common with the end effect of stopping reading rather than increasing it. Sometimes you need something light and sometimes it is simply refreshing to read something that hasn’t been determined “adult literature” (whatever that means) because of the fresh voice that you get to experience. It is worth mentioning, as you do in your rant, that not all YA literature is light!

  • gapster

    I would like to say from the beginning that I am also totally against book snobbery. While I do have my own opinions on which books have more literary merit than others, I keep those opinions to myself and I let the professional critics battle it out. I like seeing people READ anything, whether it suits my tastes or not. As an avid book reader, it is rare for me to find others that would rather read a good novel than watch TV. So in that sense, I don’t really care what other people read, as long as they do read.

    And I know what it feels like to have book snobs pass judgment on me because I happen to absolutely love anything by Stephen King, and detective novels, etc. I also read Classic Literature as well as what is traditionally categorized as “literary fiction,” so it seems a bit premature to judge me without knowing what else I read.

    But I do believe that it’s possible to view certain books as not being age-appropriate without having to be labeled as a snob. I don’t doubt that Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc., are probably well written, but I *personally* have no desire to read them because they simply do not appeal to me.
    For instance, I no longer have the same tastes as a 44-year old grownup as I did when I was 12 years old and counted Judy Blume as my favorite author.
    Judy Blume wrote books about the struggles of adolescence and such that really spoke to me then, but that I cannot relate to now. And I admit that Yes, I would feel slightly embarrassed if someone saw me with a Judy Blume book nowadays.
    But I have actually gone back and tried to reread some of the YA books that I absolutely loved in my youth, for purely nostalgic reasons, and found that I cannot even finish them now.
    I am a totally different as a reader now, as I think is only natural and to be expected. I do not shy away from reading a YA Book out of concern for what others might think, as I will read WHATEVER I want, it’s just that I know what does and does not sound patently silly and juvenile to my adult sensibilities and interests.

    I know that a book with juvenile-sounding names like “muggles” and “Hogwarts Academy” where kids are learning to become wizards does not appeal to me: does that make me a snob? I do not believe so. Does it make me a snob just because I find it odd that someone else my age would like it? I do not believe so. But to each is own.

    At first I truly could not understand the anger that Ruth Graham’s article stirred up. But then when I reread the article, I noticed that she does appear to be a wee bit on the book snobbery side. She made a comment that seemed to criticize detective novels as not being real literature. Wow, so now Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, my favorite mystery writers, were supposedly just no-talent hacks putting out a bunch of potboilers for the unwashed masses? I sure hope that is not the sentiment that Ruth Graham intended to convey. But I do not want to attempt to speak on her behalf.
    But I do want to separate the 2 issues: Book Snobbery is not the same as Opinions on what is considered to be age-appropriate.

    Now we can disagree on what qualifies as YA: many friends and coworkers that I have talked to recently seem to think that books with teens as main characters are by definition YA.
    I disagree with this, as a book like Huckleberry Finn, while narrated by a child and having children as main characters, dealt with adult themes of the time, such as slavery. Mark Twain himself was not under the impression that he was writing a “children’s novel,” although I know that some publishers at the time were trying to market it as such.

    So in my opinion, a truly YA book is one that is purposely written to suit the lower reading level of a teen or preteen.

    As YA is a category created by publishers so they can target sales to certain age categories, it also stands to reason that most of those books will be purposely written at a Jr. High or High School reading level, avoiding the more complex sentences and multiple clauses and vocabulary that you will encounter in say, a Henry James novel.

    So let’s use Henry James as one of many good examples:

    Kids read Henry James in school because they are *forced* to do so as a homework assignment, not because they want to.
    Personally, I hated anything by Henry James when in High School, and I was a great student. But later on as an adult I went back and reread some of his work for my own pleasure and discovered that I really enjoy it now, despite its’ complexity.

    I would bet that a grown adult with no kids would not pickup and read a Dr. Seuss book for his or her own reading pleasure, am I correct?
    I am trying to stretch the argument to its’ extreme to help make the point.
    The point being that there are indeed some kids books that would seem either weird or creepy for a grownup to want to enjoy on their own. Can we all agree on that?
    The issue is that when we are talking about the YA Category, which is aiming at 13 to 17 year-olds, the age-appropriate lines become a lot less clear.
    Whether or not it should be “OK” to enjoy a teen book as an adult is really no one else’s business but your own. But other people are not necessarily wrong or snooty just because they disagree. It’s all in how constructive criticism is delivered to people, and whether or not you have enough rapport with that individual to speak it to them. I have called out a good friend of mine for reading the Hunger Games, but since he doesn’t usually read, I thought that he might not have realized that the target audience for that book series is pre-teen girls. He said he didn’t care, because he enjoyed the story.
    And that was the end of it, and the issue was dropped, no harm, no foul.
    It does not have to become an argument.

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  • majoraphasia

    1) If either of the hosts pauses, mid-sentence, to shout “Che! Che! Revolución” I will then consider using the words “overwhelming liberal bias”. Until that time the label hardly applies.

    2) Having reading and strongly disliked Peter Heller’s falsely macho The Painter I wonder if the show’s strong bias toward Peter Heller’s The Painter indicates a threat as great as we have known.

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  • Jaye

    You made a brief mention of “Caged Bird” frequently being a banned book. It reminded me of the Banned Books Week quilt challenge, which is in its third year. Take a look: http://www.craftygardenmom.com/2014/08/3rd-annual-banned-books-week-mini-quilt.html There is a Flickr pool to see quilts from previous years.

    All during your “rant”, my mind was screaming Hunger Games. I believe this series was written as YA and the themes are so mature and there are so many. I think that book alone makes Ms. Graham’s essay a joke. My son (now a senior in H.S.) and I had a long discussion about tyranny and his perceived tyranny at his school using the Hunger Games as an example. Thanks for the rant! Go read whatever you want!

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  • Trey Ferber

    Invaluable comments ! I was fascinated by the specifics – Does anyone
    know if my business can acquire a blank 1994 DD 368 example to work with

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