As a recovering English major, I sometimes just like to read for the hell of it, enjoy the story and not worry too much about literary merit or what any of the stuff might symbolize. Moby Dick, after all, is a great yarn about high seas adventures. But, then again, you’re missing something if you don’t also ponder what it is has to to say about God and the existence of evil (which is nothing particularly uplifting; Melville will never make the Oprah book club).
When I write reviews, I have to wear my English major hat, and frequently I realize that I missed something that I might not otherwise have considered if I were just reading for amusement and didn’t have to think about it in an attempt to say something semi-interesting that might actually be helpful to someone who may not have read the work in question, or read it the same way I did.
I actually like reading some literary criticism, but what I can’t stand are critics who suffer from “what I’m saying is more important than what the text is actually saying” syndrome. And, sometimes, I just don’t feel like working that hard. Case in point is this post at the blog for Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association. I think I understand Niall Harrison’s responses more than I understand the points taken from Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory though, not having read the book (nor do I intend to) that’s probably my shortcoming, not his.