Forgive me, Dante, for I am a sinner. I confess. Do not judge me too harshly, oh Joyce, Tolstoy, Waugh, Saramago, and other greats that collect my dust instead of my readership. I mean well. I feel genuine pleasure and admiration when I muster the will and energy to read your famous words, but that will is wanting and the energy is eluding me. That, and I sooner finish reading a Scarrow, Follet, or Eggers than I start reading Kafka. I confess.
Let me be clear on this right from the get-go: I love what is considered ‘high’ and ‘proper’ literature, whatever it actually may be, but often I loathe it, too. It’s an easy position to take these days. We can rage at the wanton and torturous denseness of an exemplary James Joyce, but mostly so because we can admire the effort and sheer genius he poured into his work. Love and loathing often share loads. There is definitely awareness and appreciation of the quality of work that is presented in the ‘canon’.
Nevertheless, and I think I am certainly not alone in this, my endeavour to read ‘literature’ is precipitated by rich expectations that are unrealistic and somewhat disheartening. When I pick up Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for the umpteenth time (the sixth, if I’m honest), I know I will enjoy the cadences of his sentences, their fluidity and their clarity, because I have done so repeatedly over the past two years. The intricate plot, the wondrously engaging and enticing trails of thought exhibited by Raskolnikov, the novel’s protagonist, give me the same enjoyment. I actually followed an excellent course at the University of Amsterdam, ‘Evil in Thought and Literature’, during which we discussed Crime and Punishment for three weeks. But still I struggle to actually read on from the first thirty pages.
Enter Simon Scarrow. About five and a half years ago, when I was on holiday in Greece, I picked up Gladiator, one of the books in his historical swashbuckling ‘Eagle Series’ about Cato and Macro, two officers in the Roman army, whose adventures are set in the time of the Emperor Claudius. The book was highly enjoyable. It has just the right balance between adventure, history, craziness and fun, whilst not dumbing it down. The whole series is an easy read, but it’s complete pulp.
Two months ago, when my time in Edinburgh was drawing to a close, I found the first book in Scarrow’s series, Under the Eagle in the local Waterstone’s. I bought it, alongside Corey Taylor’s You’re Making Me Hate You and a book on William Wallace, and read it with relish while I ought to be perusing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for my thesis.
To hell with it. I read for fun. If all these literary giants on my shelves see me enjoying books, I doubt they’ll mind what the actual books are. Reading is fun. High-brow literature can be enjoyable, but tiring, too. Its promise is demanding. You have to be in the right mood. Contrarily, you can pick up the right tripe anytime.
So, I am a sinner, but I am proud to be. I will leave you with a last confession, though, which will no doubt condemn me, but I don’t care:
I actually bought the last two Dan Brown novels, and furiously read them cover to cover in a few day’s time. Yes, I felt anger towards the plot, characters and language, but with morbid curiosity and a guilty enjoyment I read and read and read. I did. I confess.
So shoot me.