When I was 18, I bought F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night under the assumption that Fitzgerald had derived his title from a song by an Essex based Brit-pop band. I came to the conclusion that the author, like me, was a fan of Blur.
A few years later, during a lengthy Wikipedia binge, I learnt that Fitzgerald was not an admirer of Damon Albarn and his Colchester collective - he would have been 103-years-old when Tender was released - but had rather acquired his title from a poem by John Keats. Last week, after avoiding Fitzgerald's novel due to this slightly disappointing realization, I read Tender is the Night, thoroughly enjoyed it, and consequently read a collection of Keats's poetry.
It occurred to me that I had started with a group of popular musicians and worked my way backwards through to the so-called 'higher' echelons of culture. I turned to my little library and noticed how many other books had been purchased because of influences from pop-culture.
I had only read Jack Kerouac's On the Roadafter it was referenced in Judd Apatow's Freaks and Geeks. I had only read Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls because of the Joy Division song of the same name, and I was only a fan of Joy Division after watching Anton Corbijn's Control. I had only read Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because it was comically referenced on Party Down. I had only read Thomas Pynchon after Seth Cohen - during a somewhat absurd conversation with Paris Hilton - mentioned him in an episode of The O.C. And, of course, there is a plethora of writers, poets and philosophers that I only read because Woody Allen pretty much told me to.
There is a certain stigma that accompanies admissions of this kind. People seem to believe that we should stumble upon Keats, or Gogol, or any of those great writers, through some proper course - whatever that might be. This is nonsense. If you read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet after finding out that Lady Gaga has a certain quote tattooed on her arm, well, that's great. If you read To Kill a Mockingbird because David and Victoria Beckham named their child Harper, that's great too. We should just be happy that more people are reading Rilke and Lee.
In the last week I completed an elongated cycle. I went from Blur to Fitzgerald to Keats; from Brit-pop to Modernist literature to Romantic poetry. I'm not suggesting that I have somehow culturally progressed - I think it's pretty facile to propose that poetry is superior to pop music - but rather I have simply noticed the pop-cultural influences that dictate what I read. I may have never read Fitzgerald and I may have never stumbled upon Keats were it not for Blur. I see nothing wrong with that. There is, after all, no wrong way to read the right book.