The readers among us will want to check out Salman Rushdie’s recent lecture at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis (scroll down a bit and click on “Author Salman Rushdie speaks..” to get the file).
He starts by asking if maybe we have too utilitarian a view of art. Maybe, he says, it’s possible that the arts are for nothing at all. What is theuse of Alice in Wonderland, he asks? You can’t clean your car with it. And here you’d think a novelist with a fatwa on his head wouldn’t be so glib about the uses of art, but he has a refreshing and kind of liberatingly blasphemous take on the whole thing.
He delights his audience, which, according to the moderator, was heavily slanted toward school-aged kids, by saying that when he tried to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he found it so boring he wanted to throw up. He’d tucked into it because it was one of the few books that have supposedly really changed the world, in a literal changing-hearts- and-minds kind of way. In fact, he says, very few books have a direct effect on a society.
The books we love, though, he says, change us. Interestingly he says we usually only love a handful of books in a lifetime (he doesn’t say what his are, though he does profess to at least like The Great Gatsby, which he’d reread in anticipation of his visit to Fitzgerald’s hometown. Better than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, anyway).
“The books we love change us. What they leave in us is a little residue. And we see the world through that residue. That is how they change the world.”