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The Solitary Vice: Against Reading Paperback – April 15, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (April 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593761872
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593761875
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,193,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and Maryland Institute College of Art professor Brottman (High Theory/Low Culture) challenges the conventional wisdom of her fellow compulsive readers, positing that "while illiteracy is just as dangerous as sexual ignorance, in both cases there's a case to be made for moderation." As the title entendre suggests, Brottman is an advocate of reading for pleasure, but she draws witty and serious ties between literacy and a number of impulses, compulsions and neuroses: voyeurism, celebrity worship, guilt, isolation and "Severe Disappointment with Reality." With thoughtful deference to those "smart, well-educated people... for whom reading is anything but 'fun-damental,'" she cites recent titles challenging the reading-is-good-for-you "superstition" (How to Talk About Books you Haven't Read, Everything Bad is Good for You), mines her own past for tales of reading excess ("I became something of a ghoul myself, buried all day in my bedroom... except to renew my library books") and looks hard at "some of the things literature... can't do." Brottman beats a winding path through library stacks, "ought" books and the virtues of true crime. Of course she rallies for the home team, locating reading's greatest virtue in its faculty for individual self-discovery (not unlike masturbation). With sharp observations, a brisk style and a wide range of topics, Brottman's is a rare feat: a crowd-pleaser that could make converts out of readers and nonreaders alike.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Brottman boldly challenges the current conventional wisdom, expressed in such venues as citywide reading campaigns and the NEA's Reading at Risk report, that reading is an unalloyed good...Citing her own childhood reading obsession, devouring horror stories 'locked away in my attic bedroom . . . avoiding everything I could, except books,' she describes how reading turned her 'from an ordinary, introspective teenager into a barely functional recluse.'... Yet, as Brottman generously shares her own reading obsessions, she subtly challenges us to consider what gives each of us who love to read our unique passion for the written word." -- Shelf Awareness

"The Solitary Vice will make you rethink your own relation to reading. Brottman is wonderful at reminding us what a very complicated act--of fantasy, recompense, adventurism and (sometimes) perversity--reading a book can be." -- Laura Kipnis

"Brottman is an advocate of reading for pleasure, but she draws witty and serious ties between literacy and a number of impulses, compulsions and neuroses: voyeurism, celebrity worship, guilt, isolation and `Severe Disappointment with Reality' . . . With sharp observations, a brisk style and a wide range of topics, Brottman's is a rare feat: a crowd-pleaser that could make converts out of readers and nonreaders alike." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Mikita Brottman is one of us: another victim of the unhealthiest and most solipsistic of media pleasures. In this compelling condemnation of literature, she nonetheless offers us one more reason to pick up a good book--her own." -- Douglas Rushkoff

"Brottman is wonderful at reminding us what a [complicated] act--of fantasy, recompense, adventurism, and (sometimes) perversity--reading...can be." -- Laura Kipnis

"Her book is part provocation, part memoir and part memorable roadmap to some of literature's best." -- Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

"Here's a book, from a professor no less, that asks the heretical question: Is reading as great as all those preachy public service campaigns would have us believe? ...But as Mikita Brottman, who teaches literature and college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, acknowledges, she's not against reading. She's for thinking about reading in more complex ways:'It's easy to get into the habit of reading; what's much more difficult is learning to become a conscientious, discerning reader.' The Solitary Vice will help." -- USA Today

"In this compelling condemnation of literature, [Brottman]... offers us one more reason to pick up a good book--her own." -- Douglas Rushkoff

"[Brottman's] erudite and witty new work [is] a wild literary ride [which] challenges the current conventional wisdom..." -- Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness

More About the Author

I'm a professor in the Department of Humanistic Studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and a critic, author and analyst. I write and teach about the uncanny, abjection, true crime, esotericism, horror in film and literature, and the history of psychoanalysis. I live in the old Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore, with my partner David Sterritt and our popular and charismatic French bulldog, Grisby.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Eric on October 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's easy to speak breathlessly about the heady pleasures of reading, but Brottman, for most of The Solitary Vice, anyway, provides a wise corrective. No, she is not completely "against reading", but she does persuasively argue that the act of reading (literature) isn't the intrinsically beneficial, spiritual edifying practice it's often depicted as by overzealous educators. Through both humorous memoir (that this reader related to uncomfortably) and sociological evidence, she effectively makes this simple point and from there suggests some implications for how exactly we might more realistically appreciate the pleasures of the novel.

I only give four stars because the book is, in my opinion, padded with a lot of illustrations and material that only has a tangental connection to the main argument. Nearly half of the book is devoted to the discussion of a few somewhat arcane genres of "low culture" reading - the celebrity confessional, the true-crime novel, the psychological profile - for reasons that are hardly justified (although there are a few weak attempts) in terms of the main thesis of the book. At times these discussions are rewarding, as when her survey of author biographies points out that many celebrated writers of renown (Nabokov, Henry James, etc) were widely considered to be boorish and ironically lacking in self-knowledge, but it's a quirky sampling of topics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pierce Timberlake on August 15, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The solitary vice referred to in the title is reading, not sexual self-gratification, but the association is not accidental. Ms. Brottman seems at first to be implying that the two practices are comparable, but then lets us know that, hey, they're both OK, as long as you're doing it for "self discovery." (In case the connection wasn't obvious enough, the cover art depicts the lower half of a woman's body, dress tucked up high, her hand in her lap -- holding a book. OK, we get it.)

Ms. Brottman starts out by attacking the idea that reading is intrinsically good for you. She makes some very valid points, and her voice is quick, bright, witty. I have a few minor issues here, like when she says that Capote's "In Cold Blood" and Mailer's "The Executioner's Song" don't work for her, because they're too fictional. Huh? Didn't that rural family really get killed by the two drifters? Didn't Gilmore murder the clerk? Then she goes on to say that one of her favorite "true crime" books is Moore's "From Hell." The latter is a graphic novel that presents a highly speculative theory about Jack the Ripper. That "From Hell" is "true crime" while "In Cold Blood" and "The Executioner's Song" are fiction, is mind-boggling. (She also refers to a "dark" version of Hamlet. In contrast to all the light, fluffy versions, I guess. Maybe I'm being overly picky here.)

At one point she presents the reader with a questionnaire. Questions include "Do you ever laugh out loud while reading?" (Yes, for this reviewer, but not in years. Decades.) "Do you every cry while reading?" (No, I only cry in movies, and only then because the contrast between the dark theater and the bright screen stings my eyes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mallo Bennie on August 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
The original thesis, that reading is not intrinsically salutary, and the subsequent chapters on genres the author loves may not hang together as a sustained and cohesive argument, but Brottman's enthusiasm and her nose for compelling information make this a bit of a blast.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Beauchamp on January 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
Knowing beforehand that this was not actually a condemnation of reading but rather a challenge to conventional wisdom, I expected so much more from this essay, and feel compelled to write a review because of my surprise and disappointment. Neither the table of contents nor editorial reviews make clear that most of this book is devoted to singing the praises of gossip, in one written form or another. The first few chapters however are somewhat interesting and explain my two-star rating. The first chapter relates the author's decidedly strange adolescence spent confined in an attic with books as her only companions; the second chapter deals with book collections and libraries, and readers' various approaches to reading; the third mostly dishes on so-called classic works of literature and may help lighten social pressures to pretend familiarity with books that often are arduous to read and mostly disconnected from current reality (for some reason, mainly that Brottman happens to love his works, Shakespeare is exempt from her otherwise sweeping disapproval). Later chapters however focus almost exclusively on gossip of one form or another. Brottman is adamant that everyone loves gossip; in her opinion, anyone claiming otherwise is either lying or delusional (this is, no doubt, a comforting stance for gossip lovers). One chapter is thus devoted to the wonders of celebrity tell-alls and confessionals (in which category she seems to lump all memoirs), another to unauthorized authors' biographies (the sleaziest, the better), and a third to true crime stories. Brottman is so enamored of gossip that I counted 12 (twelve!) occurrences of the word in one page and ten (10!) more in the very next page. Now, that's a lot of gossip, and a definite lack of editorial guidance. Not long after that, since I clearly was no longer « engaged », I decided to take the author's own word of advice and simply gave up.
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