Let them entertain you

An excerpt from the first essay in Michael Chabon’s new book of essays, Maps and Legends, which is a gorgeous book. It has three covers of varying sizes and colors, overlapping one another to make a sum that is greater than its three parts. Those people at McSweeneys know how to put together a beautiful looking book. The essays are wonderfully written, literate and entertaining on a number of subjects, but in particular they consider an issue of entertainment in literature, the value of entertainment, what it means, and how it’s become something “serious” people (which I think is a nice way of not naming the sort of reader he’s referring to) look down upon in writing, which could in fact be why so few people seem to be reading these days, if that recent poll is right: 1 in 4 Americans didn’t read a single book last year. Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the value of books that entertain as well as those that enlighten. I think books can do both at the same time, and probably should.

Entertainment has a bad name. Serious people learn to mistrust and even to revile it. The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights. It gives off a whiff of Coppertone and dripping Creamsicle, the fake-butter miasma of a movie-house lobby, of karaoke and Jägermeister, Jerry Bruckheimer movies, a “Street Fighter” machine grunting solipsistically in a corner of an ice-rink arcade. Entertainment trades in cliché and product placement. It engages regions of the brain far from the centers of discernment, critical thinking, ontological speculation. It skirts the black heart of life and drowns life’s lambency in a halogen glare. Intelligent people must keep a certain distance from its productions. They must handle the things that entertain them with gloves of irony and postmodern tongs. Entertainment, in short, means junk, and too much junk is bad for you — bad for your heart, your arteries, your mind, your soul.

But maybe these intelligent and serious people, my faithful straw men, are wrong. Maybe the reason for the junkiness of so much of what pretends to entertain us is that we have accepted — indeed, we have helped to articulate — such a narrow, debased concept of entertainment. The brain is an organ of entertainment, sensitive at any depth and over a wide spectrum. But we have learned to mistrust and despise our human aptitude for being entertained, and in that sense we get the entertainment we deserve.

You can read the rest of the excerpt by clicking here.

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