Inauguration Day

It's been quite a while, to say the least. What can I say? School, life, the holidays, it all happened. I've now started working full-time, and in the interest of the new year and a new leaf, I decided that there was no better day to re-up my blog than inauguration day...

There has been no shortage of articles dedicated to Obama's reading lists and his control of the written and spoken language. Particular attention has been paid to Team of Rivals written by Doris Kearn Goodwin, which explains Lincoln's decision to include former opponents in his cabinet -- something closely mirrored in Obama's own cabinet decisions.

Today, however, there was a particular New York Times article that caught my attention: From Books, New President Found His Voice. . Essentially, this article is a discourse on the formative power of reading, whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction.

Whether or not books are formative in their own right will have to be left to the subject of another post. But the fact that this NY Times writer lumps together fiction and non-fiction, poetry and literature, is substantial in and of itself. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I have argued with someone over the importance of fiction over non-fiction. Or the beauty of prose over poetry. Or vice versa.

What am I saying here? Just this: non-fiction tells us fact. Fiction tells us truth. Prose gives us stories. Poetry gives us precision. Non-fiction tells us the truth. Fiction tells us untruths. Prose is wordy. Poetry is beautiful. An essay is real, a short-story made-up*. What this writer is claiming, and what I am inclined to agree with, is that the presentation does not matter. The form does not matter. What matters is the impact that a book, or essay, or poem, or whatever it may be, has on the individual reading it.

Even the lack of an impact is important in such a context. I, for example, am not likely to be moved by the history of The Bounty. A fictional tale of two comic-book writers in New York, however? You got me. I'm hooked. I will forget every detail in a science book, no matter how true, while remembering the names of the three dragons in George R. R. Martin's Fire and Ice series. I will pay no heed to the serial fiction in the New York Times magazine to learn more about Israel and Gaza and what the hell is going on in this world.

Ultimately, what I am arguing is that it makes no difference what we read, so long as we continue to read. With that in mind, I'm off to finish Dewey, the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World . Because I know I will be influenced by the story of a library, a librarian, and the cat who loved them both.

*For an interesting discourse on "made-up" stories, see A Storytelling of Ravens .