I have on occasion remarked that I do not read very much, and that is indeed true, if by "read" one refers to philosophical works, or serious fiction, or diplomatic history. But in fact, I have throughout my life consumed enormous amounts of schlock fiction. As a boy, I read and re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories, and then segued into science fiction [as I reported in my Autobiography, my first published work was a letter to Astounding Science Fiction defending Aristotle against the "Non-Aristotelian logic" that was then all the rage in the science fiction pulp world.] Once I got to college, I gave up science fiction as a thing of my youth, and devoted myself to detective stories. I have read literally every novel written by Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Marjorie Allingham, John Dickson Carr [and also Carter Dickson, one of his pen names], and Rex Stout. I guess this counts as "reading" in the eyes of some, but to me there is really no difference between reading a shelf of John Dickson Carr mysteries and watching seven seasons of Bones or MI5 on my computer courtesy of Netflix. It all comes under the broad and capacious category of "Wasting Time."
I have spent my entire life wasting vast amounts of time, but at least when I was being paid a wage, there were classes to teach, papers to grade, and books to write in the interim, thereby creating the illusion that I was a serious person engaged in something worthwhile. Now that I am retired, however, the wasting of time seems to have become my calling. Fortunately, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I live, has a first-rate public library well-stocked with schlock fiction catering to a wide range of tastes. My own taste these days runs to spy novels, and I have read scores of them in the past three and a half years.
But there is a fly in the ointment. It seems that I have become hyper-sensitive to the political prejudices of the authors, which they often reveal in the casual asides of their characters, and I simply find it impossible to read a spy novel whose political orientation is antithetical to my own. For example, an author named Daniel Silva has created a character -- Gabriel Allon -- who is both a fabled Israeli Mossad killer and also a world-class fine art restorer. Silva is a graceful writer, and I enjoy his rendering of the London art world. But Silva [not merely the character, Allon, but the novelist Silva] is a partisan of modern Israel who cannot keep himself from introducing into his narratives political judgments about the Palestinians and the Middle East that set my teeth on edge. Try as I may, I just cannot get through his novels any more. It is a great loss.
Just yesterday, I went to the library and took out a new Brad Thor thriller, featuring his character, Scott Harvath [neither of these names strikes me as real, but that is par for the course in the world of schlock fiction.] I got thirty pages or so into it and found myself gagging at Thor's politics.
Now, this is never a problem for me on the rare occasions when I read serious literature. It would never cross my mind to worry about the political presuppositions of one of Shakespeare's history plays, or to cavil at Dostoyevsky's reactionary thrust in Crime and Punishment. I derive the greatest imaginable pleasure from Jane Austen's novels, despite the fact that politically I am hardly a partisan of the early nineteenth century English landed gentry. if I can so willingly suspend my ideological judgment when reading those works, why on earth can I not do the same for a cheap bit of time-passing fiction?
I am left with Oxygen, Nick Lane's first book, which I had never read. I am 70 pages into it now, and though it is in fact not as good as his later books, it is sheer pleasure to read. It is still wasting time, of course -- what earthly need have I of details about the role of Oxygen in the evolution of life? But I can read it without once having to suspend my political prejudices. if this keeps up, I may find myself driven to reading philosophy!