Good writing is not enough…

Since I try to read as much as I can — in a way that it sometimes feels as if my brains are not reading but just parsing the text — I often wonder what exactly makes me read, makes me read on, and remember.

I know what makes me pick up a book like Jared Diamond’s Collapse (about how civilizations collapse): wanting to know what is inside such a pop-science bestseller plus the fact that he writes extensively about the Viking settlements in Greenland and Iceland (an interest of mine ever since I read the Icelandic sagas). It’s a fat book. Even before picking up I know I will never read it completely. Starting to read it on the train to Maastricht I find out quickly that it is a book which lends itself very well to speed-reading: lots of anecdotes, digressions, personal bits, life stories, plus always these clear statements about what is to follow, or summaries and conclusions concerning what one has just read (well, or missed). It is the sort of book that one can skim through and still get the main message. Or so it seems — I am speed-reading. However gripping and accessible, such books leave me with an empty feeling. Speed reading always leaves one with an empty feeling, reading more closely will turn out to be tedious, too much repeating, too much what one already knows… Not condensed enough. (Btw: the books seems to be very well researched — and I guess it is a good book. It’s not one of those middle-of-the-road-quick-pay-off popscience books one sees for sale at airports).

Another example: I picked-up Simon Reynolds acclaimed history of post-punk Rip it Up and Start Again. Reynolds is a very, very good music journalist, and a good writer: I loved reading his earlier Energy Flash about the rave/dance-culture, (even though (or thanks to?) the fact that he reads the music completely through the lens of drug-use).

Post-punk was very much ‘in the air’ when I started listening to music, (Reynolds is three years my senior), but where for Reynolds this brings back excitement, I am time and time again confirmed in my dislike for this era. I listened to for instance Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu, The Fall, Joy Division, Clock DVA, but I never really liked the music. (I mean, the tape-composers, or home-composers as they were called then, presented by Willem De Ridder on Dutch radio around the same time as Radionome and Spleen were presenting postpunk-bands, were much more important to me). I owned (well: own) copies of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, The Catherine Wheel, and Bowies Low and Heroes, but I never return to those. To be more exact: where I probably share some of the attitudes towards music of postpunk, I do not really like the music produced. Rip Rig & Panic might be the band that comes closest to my ‘taste’, but after 3 or 4 songs, I have had enough — on the other hand I can listen to the Minutemen, Firehose or even (early) The Jam over and over again.

So, reading through the first chapters of Reynolds postpunk-history I am confronted with a growing boredom. And no, I do not have any feelings for the British myth of popmusic. Boredom: please do not make me remember The Human League, not the early industrial bands. Skip, page after page, only reading the last page and a half of chapters. What a rotten book. Until Reynolds arrives at No Wave, New York style. Reynolds doens’t change writing style, but at once I’m full of attention…

Good writing is not enough — one needs an ‘interest’. Whatever that is, or where it comes from…

en,reading matter | October 24, 2006 | 13:12 | Comments Off on Good writing is not enough… |


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