13. Why Read?
Reading has an array of principal attractions depending on the breadth of the reader’s palate. It can educate, provoke thought, outrage, inspire and everything in between but the thing I cherish the most is when a book makes me laugh.
Comedy has been a staple of the arts since Aristophanes realised the positive impact it could have on his desolate audience after a tragedy or two. However, for some reason comedy is habitually given short shrift amongst the intellectual posturing that surrounds literary discussion.
Humour undoubtedly can have a serious role to play. Dickens understood how powerful comedy could be in exposing the absurdity of inequality and misfortune. With powerful topics of literature such as sex, death and faith, satire has been a crucial tool in confronting taboos.
However, the comic novel is often overlooked as it is perceived to lack the profundity of more solemn work. It can be denigrated as frivolous when quite frankly, an amusing turn can bring warmth and joy to the direst of catastrophes and help explore subject matter that serious fiction can struggle to dwell on.
Having grown up with a diet of Just William and the canon of Wodehouse’s Jeeves, I have always strongly believed that humour has a place at the head of the literary table.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, we all like to revel in other people’s misfortune. It is far safer and less morally reprehensible to do so through the medium of a novel. What greater way to explore our own shortcomings than by living vicariously through the buffoon. If you can’t be made to laugh by the work-shy delusional narrator in Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat or the ill-fated Paul Pennyfeather in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall then I pity you greatly and hope I never have to sit next to you at a dinner party.
Sometimes we don’t want to decipher dense prose and unpick metaphors about the futility of existence. Sometimes we just want to be uplifted by the simple gift of laughter so readily provided by a panoply of humorous novels. It probably says something about me but I find myself in good company going for a bun fight at Drones with Bertie Wooster and I always feel privileged to be the 4th man in the boat.
To quote Francis Bacon,
“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”
So why read? Because I need consoling!