A book commits suicide every time you watch 'Jersey Shore': Do you read high-brow, watch low?

What you need is a bookend! Random House, Inc. posted this funny picture and axiom on its Facebook page. If you look closely, you can see what appears to be To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and an unidentified book plunging to their deaths because they refuse to exist in a world in which Jersey Shore is being watched. The photo is obviously a joke, but I refuse to believe you can’t read smart books while enjoying trash reality TV. In fact, many of the smartest people I know do both — something about being capable of holding two opposing ideas in mind at the same time.

I read To The Lighthouse this year, and while I can’t say I found it wildly entertaining, I stuck with it and felt like a better person for having finished it. Then I binged on the first season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but I didn’t feel less intelligent. In fact, I thought Woolf and the Housewives have a common thread: They both realize that a offhand comment at a dinner party can have enormous, persistent consequences. Reality stars are totally literary. Not really — after all, this happened, and it’s not something I can get behind.

So Shelf Lifers, tell us — do you read quality books and also watch junk (or vice-versa)? Share some of your high-brow and lowest-of-the-low pairings!

Follow Stephan on Twitter: @stepephan


Comments (62 total) Add your comment
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  • Th3Scribbl3r

    No. I made a conscious effort over the last year as I got more serious about writing to faze out as much as TV as possible, but to be fair I never watched junk TV except when my girl put one of her shows on. So now I just sit back on the couch and read while she watches shows on Bravo or Sex and the City reruns, add a pinch of cannabis and I am fully immersed in the story. Though I will admit to the occasional episode of Adventure Time, but I think that is a little too perfect to be junk.

    • Yes

      COuldnt agree more adventure time and cannabis make my life

  • Felix

    I read quality books and watch Fringe!

    • @Felix

      Good point, Fringe IS crap.

  • keith

    I read quality books. Really the only tv I watch are reruns of old sitcoms. They soothe me. Not sure if that is trash tv.

  • Karate Pants

    I would guess around 97% us enjoy reading both quality and junk books AND watching both quality and junk TV, while the other 3% relish being humorless, smug, pretentious people who the rest of us can’t stand.

    • Elbyem

      Love your comment, KP – I’m in your 97th percentile – but I think you’ve left out the frightful number of people who DON’T read AT ALL. I work in an office of people who are well-educated and purport to be professionals, but many of them (especially the younger ones) don’t read books, ever. The standard excuse is that they’re too busy, even though they find time for such mindless alternative pursuits as golf, video gaming, and watching kitten videos on Youtube.

      • Kim

        I think I work in a similar place as you Karate Pants. I work in a hospital and I will have a new book every night that I read on my break (and I have my textbook like a good nursing student), meanwhile the nurses are like “Nursing school killed my desire to read.” Meanwhile after work they’re on facebook games for hours…

        I read/watch a mix. I read a lot of serious stuff this summer, but that’s because I wasn’t in school. Now… I am reading a lot of fluff and watching a lot of fluff.

    • nodnarb

      I’m in the percentile that reads the junk books just so I can knowledgeably ridicule the people who actually enjoy them! :)

    • Karate Pants

      @Elbyem – Good point. I was just wondering the other day how we, as a society, have become too impatient to r…HEY, LOOK! KITTEHZ!!!
      @nodnarb – Indeed. But I think it’s special that we can support each others’ interests. You’re the yin to my yang, the sparkle in my meadow. :)

      • nodnarb

        I wish we were Facebook friends because I barely see you on here anymore

      • Karate Pants

        Ah, me too. I’m working on a plan of shirking my other responsibilities so I can better commit myself here. Especially with Breaking Dawn just weeks away, I mean, it’s important!

    • tracy bluth

      I totally agree, KP. Just as I read The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! after reading the Song of Ice and Fire series (not that these books aren’t absolutely fantastic, I just wouldn’t call them high brow. And yes, I just realized I read seven books in a row that contain incest) I watched an episode of Downton Abbey right before last week’s Jersey Shore. That’s not to say I don’t act unnecessarily pretentious though.
      And nodnarb, that’s basically what I did with Twilight.

  • Fatima

    Read a ton of classics this summer (as well as some modern fiction from Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith to name a few) and still wouldn’t dream of missing a Real Housewives episode. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. I watch a lot of “quality” shows too, but there’s room for a lot more. My idea is that TV doesn’t demand a ton of time to watch an episode, whereas with books I’ve never really understood the appeal of reading something super easy to digest. If I’m going to read (and I do), I want it to be good because you spend so much time with it.

  • mell

    I read quality books, and I read trash books. Same with TV. The balance between the two depends on my mood/life. Sometimes you just need entertainment as an escape, and quality books so often can be as sad and emotionally taxing as life. That can be wonderful and educating, but it can also be exhausting. It’s nice to have a break and read Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer in between Virginia Woolf tomes.

  • nodnarb

    I find this post ironic considering 98% of Shelf Life’s coverage is Young Adult books.

    • Anna T

      It’s silly that you think all YA books are crap.

      • Fatima

        Yeah, they’re not, but still…..

      • nodnarb

        Who said anything about crap? My point was that there is NO high-brow lit covered on this site.

    • apowell

      @nodnarb – not true. they covered Jennifer Egan and Tea Obreht really well earlier this year, but whatever.

  • Templar

    I read good books by serious authors, and mysteries for light reading. Can’t get into reality shows because if I want stupid [I don’t ever], there’s enough of it walking around outside.

    • Anna T

      Sorry to break it to you, but saying things like this doesn’t make you seem any smarter.

      • Templar

        You’ve overestimated my interest in your opinion.

  • Helene

    Read voraciously, pretty discriminating about what I read…but love Southpark.
    *hides my head in shame

    • Scandak Baby

      I think that’s fine. South Park can be a really smart show sometimes under the obvious potty humour.

  • jmiller

    Suicide is not funny. Random House made a mistake.

    • Ana

      I must agree. Suicide is such a painful, and for many, personal topic. Couldn’t they have found another word? I imagine they have a good thesaurus handy…

  • Carla

    I love good books. I love junk television. I DESPISE this ad. My 17 year old son died by suicide two and a half years ago. Jokes about suicide are about as unfunny as a joke can be. Random House should be ashamed and issue a retraction and an apology.

  • Jon

    I read, I listen, and I watch high brow. This picture speaks to me.

  • porterkelly

    “A offhand comment”? If you’re going to publish an article about reality TV making you smarter, be sure to have an editor check your grammar…or “a editor,” as the case may be.

    • apowell

      You’re a complete idiot. First of all, this article is not about reality TV making you smarter. Where do you see that? Also, only stupid, bitter people who are 100 years old try to make themselves feel smart by pointing out little grammatical errors. Get off the internet and enjoy your AOL e-mail address.

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