Why you should read books you hate

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article on reading by Pamela Paul…

I love reading. It is my favourite hobby and my number 1 pastime. It is how I end just about every day (if only for five minutes before I drift off to sleep.) I have catholic tastes and read fiction and non- in more or less equal measure. I enjoy a wide range of genres, favouring memoir and eschewing only science fiction.

Imagine my surprise, then, to encounter a New York Times article headlined, “Why you should read books you hate.” Written by Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, the essay is adapted from her forthcoming book, My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.

When I read the Amazon blurb on her upcoming book, I shrieked with delight. Paul keeps a  journal recording every book she’s ever read. In Paul, I recognize a sibling from whom I must have beeen separated at birth. I, too, have kept a book journal — although only for the last 20 years. How I wish I’d thought to start when I was younger.

While I have never deliberately sought out books I disliked, Pamela Paul makes a convincing argument for doing so. Here is part of what she says:

Defensiveness makes you a better reader, a closer, more skeptical reader: a critic. Arguing with the author in your head forces you to gather opposing evidence. You may find yourself turning to other texts with determination, stowing away facts, fighting against the book at hand. You may find yourself developing a point of view… To actively grapple with your assumptions and defend your conclusions gives you a sense of purpose. You come to know where you stand, even if that means standing apart.

I may have to start reading some science fiction…