On “fad books”
I’ve had a couple of conversations over the past few weeks on what I have ended up calling “fad books”. You know what I’m talking about, mostly the self-help variety, semi-spiritual stuff or popular philosophy, popular science, even popular history. It’s this “popular” part which bothers me the most, I guess; the style of these books is so dumbed down, I feel like a child just reading it.
Now, am I being my usual snooty self? I never was much of a reader myself, so how can I judge? In fact, I don’t think I am much of a reader now. It’s just that two years at St. John’s has affected how I react to such things.
But there’s more to it. I sometimes get the impression that everything which has had to be said or done has already been said or done. I know that can’t be entirely true, but I often come across some spark of wisdom which some new age “guru” has contrived, only to laugh it off and wonder why said “guru” has never picked up Plato or Aristotle, or even the Bible.
I guess that’s why people study philosophy, to be exposed to ideas and how some minds – not to say “great minds” – have handled them. So does that mean that people should just stop writing books or making movies or drawing or sculpting…?
I want to say, “of course not!”, but I’m not sure why. Every generation needs to learn yet again what previous generations have been through (I guess that’s why we study history), but perhaps every generation needs to express it in a different way, hopefully in a more refined manner, though that is not always the case. If there has been social, moral, political or philosophical innovation in the past, there certainly has been a great deal of regression as well.
So, what to do about these “fad books”? I don’t like them, and in fact, I really think most of the especially spiritually-oriented “gurus” are charlatans, only out to make money. But does that mean that they do not cater to a specific crowd? I would like to think that Plato, Aristotle, the Bible, etc. caters better to any crowd, but maybe there is a question of taste, and time as a luxury too.
What is more, I cannot claim for my own part to have understood much from the great books at St. John’s so far; that would be overly presumptuous. However, the fact that I read a “fad book” and know what the author is saying even before he says it turns me off. The mystery of not being able to fully comprehend is somehow more enticing and ironically more satisfying.