October 23, 2020

Benefits of bad books? Young reader weighs in


Casting a wide net, our omnivorous marketing director came across an interesting essay written by a high-school student named Daniel Ma and published in something called the Post Bulletin. Young Mr. Ma’s thesis is that the experience of reading Ayn Rand’s Anthem—which he calls “plodding” and “boorish”—actually had distinctive value of its own. In Ma’s account, for the assignment he did what he

normally did—analyzed the themes, characters, language, except this time I drove it all towards my singular point: that the book failed to convey its intended message in any meaningful way.

Ma concludes his excursus by stating that “all students should be given the opportunity to tear into a book during their schooling.”

Refreshing! We applaud this unconventional view and agree with its conclusion! And as we began to think about it, letting the idea percolate, it seemed to expand and shift shape … the concept being pertinent, in our view, to both pedagogy and literary theory. Wow! In terms of the former, we wonder if Ma’s invigorating assignment might qualify as an example of the (currently fashionable) idea of “experiential learning”? Could it count as an example of praxis under the framework outlined by the great Marxist educator Paulo Freire?

And in terms of literary theory, Mr. Ma’s thesis is a fecund generator of reflections and questions. Is the maladroitness of an Ayn Rand book not its essential point? Is not what Ma calls the “clumsiness of a drunken bear trying to paint a self-portrait” (nice one, young man!) in fact the natural, nay organic, extrusion of the book’s essence? What is “bad” literature, anyways? And who decides? Does not Ma’s idiosyncratic idea—an “interpellation,” if you will—create a kind of postmodern détournement of the idea of the canon?

Our reverie was interrupted by the pinging of a Gchat message. Food? Gossip? Ugh … just another covid health-type update. It’s gonna be a long winter, folks!


Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.