So, one of the books I’m currently reading is How to Read a Book, a gem that I discovered on Instagram. It was first written by Mortimer J. Adler in 1940 and later updated in 1972, with Charles Van Doren joining as co-author. I’ve been reading this book off and on for roughly a month now. This is the longest I have taken to read a book, most likely because it is so dense and with an academic flavor. But, reader, I am ready for the challenge!
I came across some provocative statements while reading this book. Here is one: “The reader who does not distinguish between the reasoned statement of knowledge and the flat expression of opinion is not reading to learn. He is most interested in the author’s personality and is using the book as a case history”. This statement got me thinking, why do we read books? Better yet, why do I read books. For pleasure? For knowledge? For connection?
As a bookworm in my childhood, I was never without a book and mostly gravitated toward literary fiction, especially classical works from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Are you surprised, reader, based on my current selections? My inclination towards such literature was most likely a result of my school’s English curriculum. One of my fondest childhood memories was being in my room, curled up with a newly borrowed Jane Austen novel from the public library. I cherished every moment. In my mind, I created vivid imagery from the words on the pages and got lost in another world. I visualized the world through Austen’s eyes, and how entertaining! At this time, reading purely for enjoyment and maybe to learn some new vocabulary here and there was the aim. However, I will fully admit that the personalities of Ms. Austen and the Bronte sisters intrigued me.
Today, I’m more interested in gaining knowledge when I read, making me a better critical reader. I focus on the author’s use of prose and vocabulary and seek out the pertinent information on the page. I cannot explain my new attitude towards reading, but perhaps, I have a profound curiosity about our culture? I wonder what my thoughts would be if I decided to reread Austen and the Bronte sisters’ novels today?
Observing society today, I wonder if we are only devouring books for the humble brag of superficial sophistication. The image of being seen as “well-read” is more important than acquiring the actual knowledge. The number of books read per year is the scholarly equivalent of being “insta-famous” or a “world-traveler” (i.e. “Wanderlust”).
You may say this sounds too serious; this is supposed to be a fun hobby. Please stop dissecting! So, why do you read books?