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Palm Latitudes

Cliques : Read. Talk. Read. Kill.

June 04, 1995|Ella Taylor

While pundits splutter thatn nobody reads anymore and that the general public has the attention span of a (no pun intended) newt, reading group have been springing up all over town for years. But if you think that teading refines, if you think that joining a reading group will cultivated your mind and improve the world, let me tell you: Literature kills.

I should know. For six years in Cambridge, Mass., I belonged to a book group composed of lofty academic types who liked ot read heavy-metal social therory. Every thing went fine so long as we stuck to dead white males-Freud, Marx, that sort of thing. but when we switched to live ones, things got spooky. One ofter another, they came to sticky ends immediately after we closed the book on them. French semiotician Roland Barthers was killed in a car accident. One political therorist (Louis Althusser) killed his wife and ended up in a mental institution. Another (Nicos Poulantzas) leaped to his death from a tall buiding, carrying his collected works in his arms. By the time British cultural therorist Raymond Williams expired- of natureal causes, so it was said-we were calling ourselves the Kiss of Death book group. Small wonder that shortly after I left town the group switched to reading aloud from Shakespeare.

Given my history of literary homicide, I thought it prudent on moving to Los Angles to join a book group that reads only ficiton by dead people. You'd think a body consisting largely of assorted film personnel (plus a political sicientist and a lawyer) would be gobbling up Hollywood novels by the pound, but for us only the likes of Dickens, Eliot (George and T.S.), Dreiser, Melville, Twain, Camus and Dostoyevsky cut the mustard. We avoid current best-sellers, partly out of a slightly snotty desire to avoid doing what most book gorups do, but mostly because we don't want to spring for hardbacks. Lately, I note with terror, we've been going live with Michael Ondaatje, Tono Morrison, Peter Hoeg, Don DeLillo, Art Spiegelman. After futively scanning the obituary notices, i'm relieved to report that they are alive despite being read by us.

In the event that my diabolical powers returen, however, i wll recommend to the group that we read the entire Rush Limbaugh oeuvre. Maybe a little Robert James Waller.

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