Two hipsters waiting for the train at Union Square station. One pulls a fat, beat up paperback from his shoulder bag. It’s a spy thriller - a mass market paperback you used to find on the book racks in the drug store all those years ago.
“What’s that?” his friend asks.
“Just some book I’m reading,” his friend replies. “It’s okay.”
His friend looks it over. “Why are you reading that?”
His friend didn’t answer.
“Is it fun to read, at least?”
Again, his friend didn’t answer. The one he would give would determine whether or not his cool card would be instantly revoked.
When we’re children, we are often encouraged to explore, to be curious, to treasure the things that appeal to us. Seeing a child do this is often met with a curiosity of our own, watching what a child gravitates towards and why. And we often encourage them, too, even if the source of fascination is an empty coffee cup, or a tube of lip balm. Too bad when we become adults we can no longer find joy in things, no matter what it may be. We’re simply not allowed anymore - or else be judged, your very being instantly called into question.
The above is typical of any cosmopolitan city across the world - and basically limited to those who see themselves as being “cosmopolitan” or “hip”. The rest of the population, those who struggle to put food on their plates, feed their kids, pay their rent, etc, couldn’t give a shit about any of this, and rightly so. There are far more important things to think about and in some places around the world, it’s just a struggle to remain alive until the next day. The “trials and tribulations” of someone’s reading habits or creative woes doesn't - and shouldn’t - be on the top of their lists of concerns. However it is usually these Urban Cosmopolitans who often see themselves as being “worldly”, being tuned in to “the Zeitgeist”, and all the rest of the nonsense that goes along with being “an artist” - and this is what it is often reduced to; and it isn’t limited to twenty-something hipsters. Adults engage in this too, as I’ve come to know in my personal experience.
When you take that one step back and see that one’s esthetic choices doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things - especially when you consider what people are actually going through around many parts of this world - you come to realize how silly all this actually becomes. However it does play into something else and that is the individual’s choice to do what makes them happy, what brings them a little joy into a sometimes very harsh existence. A book, a record, a movie, or just about anything else, can often be a reprieve from these horrors, a respite from the daily onslaught of genocide, crime, religious intolerance, political upheaval (I'm sure a displaced family in Syria right now couldn't care less about any of this) and all the other ways we humans think of to divide one another into camps, to reduce to “the other”. So must we, even on an almost trivial level, be subject to the same reduction?
Life is short and for the time we are here, let’s try to enjoy it and find the things that bring a little light into it. No one really owes an explanation for themselves to anyone. I’ve always said that creative types tend to take themselves just a little too seriously. Art is important, yes. Extremely so in the culture of the world. But in the end, it’s created by human beings - people with something to say who have that natural right to say it. You may not like it, but that’s too bad - the consequences of sharing the planet with eight billion other people. The best thing to do is to ignore what doesn’t appeal to you, move on to what does. And you, I or anyone else, are not “better” than anyone else just because we choose a certain book to read, listen to a particular record, or watch a certain type of film.
Do what makes you happy, for Christ’s sake. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone.
Articles of interest:
The Letters of Italo Calvino, from the New Yorker.
Henry Miller: Brooklyn Hater, from the New Yorker.
“The Time is Now” by Jen Sharp, from Sips of Jen and Tonic.
Ludlow Street Massacre: The End of the Lower East Side’s Last Rehearsal Space, from the Village Voice.
Salvador Dali’s “Alice in Wonderland” Illustrations, from Brain Pickings.
Learning from Carlos Fuentes, One Year On, from The Daily Beast.
The Shrines of Uyghur China, from the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Bid to Censor Anne Frank’s “Pornographic” Diary Fails in Michigan, from the Guardian UK.
The Serious Superficiality of “The Great Gatsby”, from the New Yorker.
Punk as Fashion, Music and Theory, from the New York Times.
Gazans Struggle to Reel in a Livelihood, from the Christian Science Monitor.
On the Trail of the Next Great Crime Novel, from the New York Observer.
Montalbano: Sicily’s Own Police Inspector: The Writings of Andrea Camilleri, from The Times of Sicily.
The Letters of William Gaddis, from the New York Times.
How Do You Write About Life When It’s Lived on Computers?, from the Guardian UK.
Is This the End of Fiction’s Genre Wars?, from the Guardian UK.