Tilly The Laughing Housewife made me laugh yesterday. She wrote, “Do you ever read fiction?” The answer is Yes and No. No, I don’t buy books categorized as fiction by the book sellers and libraries. Yes, I read books labled as non-fiction. But what is fiction? This is a weighty philosophical issue.
As an older student, I came through the universities after the student uprisings of the 1960s. In the 1970s many of the badly shaken universities taught that everything was relative. By the 1980s, leftist theory dominated thinking. The public university sociology department where I was schooled in the 1980s sold tee shirts that read, “Sociologists get good Marx.”
So, Marx replaced postmodernism, which replaced the “traditional” views that put women and some race groups in “minor” categories. Minor as in “like children.”
In the 1990s things changed a bit, and conservatism began to slowly creep back into the mix, but many of the professors I studied with while working on my history MA at another public university were decidedly leftist baby-boomers, many having either trained at Berkeley or in Europe. However, a very few of them were beginning to break out of the leftist thinking of their youth and see that the world was much more complicated than they thought. Generally, these were the professors who had experience outside academe. As a group, however, I would say all my professors ranged from the center leftwards.
Most of my classes included a good array of text books that reflected the work of historians with different points of view. My favorite books and professors where the ones that actually understood economics and business history which pseudo-Marxists never do. Real Marxists appreciate Capitalism. One of the best professors I had was a fellow who had lived and studied in Moscow. He knew where all the warts were located in leftist or socialist thinking.
I enjoyed reading most of the assigned text books and liked most of my professors. However, not all. One woman named Claire, a visiting scholar recently arrived from somewhere in Europe (she never revealed where), taught a summer class I took on European history from 1800 forward. We had a conflict. I don’t like propaganda in the classroom, and she had nothing good to say about the English or Americans. I got a B in her class..a crap grade in graduate school and the only B I had received in my last 30 years of doing graduate work (1982-2012). (I had a few Bs before that.)
Claire thought The Economist, an English publication, and the most bland business journal you can read, was a right-wing bit of propaganda. She told us her room-mate read the magazine and one day she peeked inside one issue. Wow, that told me something about her narrow outlook on life.
Of course, these days, many people don’t read at all. Our literacy rates are appalling.
But what if people read? Are they any more enlightened? Yesterday, one of the newspapers David and I read (The Washington Times) published a list of what people are reading in the Blue states and the Red states. The top five books were completely different in the two sets of states. Now, I’m not going to list the books here, but will say that I have read none of the books on either list. I must be really dumb or really clever? None of the books were what you might call fiction, unless you disagree with them. A number of the books from both lists are NYTimes best sellers.
This post is long enough, but I will add this. I am reading Chapter 7 of the new Bob Woodward book, The Price of Politics, and so far, I do not have the same impression of the book I have heard offered by correspondents of various media networks.
Call it selective reading, but I think these reporters have not read the book which is nothing more than good old factual reporting. At least that is my impression, and as I said, I am on Chapter 7. Solid book reviews are yet to be published. Perhaps, this week’s Economist magazine will have one.
One problem we have today….even many so-called literate people don’t really read. So, what does it matter if it is fiction or not?