Catkiller! on reading

The felicidally inclined Mindcleaner has been immersing himself in Ann Coulter’s latest and he pronounces himself unimpressed. The experience sparks three questions:

1. Do you read? Or, simply put, who reads? I don’t read because I discipline myself to do so or becuase I feel in any way compelled by something outside myself. I read because I enjoy it. Sure, I’ll pick up something challenging and “important” on a regualr basis, and more often than not, I enjoy it and agree with its importance. Of course, I rarely pick up a book liberals tout as important.

Most people probably won’t believe how much I read. I finish a book every third day or so, sometimes every second day, which is why I don’t bother keeping my reading list up to date. It simply changes too often. I read five or six books at a time, although I seldom read non-fiction books straight through unless they are particularly informative. As of now, I’m reading Melissa Scott’s “Empress of Earth” on my Treo, L’Amour’s 11th Sackett novel on my laptop, Oman’s “History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages” in my bed and Bruno’s “Fascisti” in the chair-and-a-half in my office. Yesterday I finished the previous book in Scott’s Heaven series and L’Amour’s 10th Sackett novel, as well as “The Case of the Deptford Horror” and “Five Rings in Reno” from a mystery anthology edited by Ellis Peters.

2. Does reading make you smarter? I know it sounds like a dumb question, but I know there are those out there who think they’re plenty smart but very seldom pick up a book. If you’re familiar with The Daily Kos (a liberal blog) you’ll know that its namesake has admited to not being that much of a book reader, prefering magazines and newspapers, and his readers think he’s about the smartest man alive. I’ve come across many conservatives who are the same way. They eschew higher education, some for good reasons, saying they would rather self-educate. I’ve asked a few about their reading habits and they’ve almost never anything by a non-radio personality. I’m not saying that can’t make you smarter, but if it does, I’d like to know how.

Definitely. Having read a wide variety of books means that even if you don’t know a particular subject very well, you will still harbor a general sense of it so when you need to go into detail, you know where to look. Novels can be surprisingly educational; until I read Norwich’s Byzantine history series, I had no idea how much Byzantine history I’d learned from Harry Turtledove’s Videssos novels. I was also rather shocked to learn how much less creative Mr. Turtledove was than I’d previously believed.

3. Is reading virtuous? If you’re a Christian, you can relate to the feeling of necessity to read your Bible. In evangelical circles, it goes without saying that a person should be well read. Not reading The Word is almost sinful if not actually sinful in many eyes. Is reading in general similar? What kind of person feels guilty if he or she does not read regularly? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt guilty when going an extended period without finishing a book, but I do know I feel something is missing if I’m not into a book. And if reading is virtuous, then is it virtuous to read just about anything? I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but can reading a steady diet of Romance novels improve a person in any way?

No, reading is not inherently virtuous. It’s actually an extreme form of self-absorption, even if it is required for self-improvement. I can’t imagine feeling guilty about not reading, since I would no more voluntarily do so than I would stop breathing. As for the intellectual nutrition to be found in a diet of Romance novels, I can only say that I would seriously question the elitist credentials of anyone who hasn’t read “Jane Eyre”, “The Tale of Genji” and “The Sorrows of Young Werther”.

Anyhow, I probably read 10 light books for every book that would be considered serious. However, I think most of what is currently considered serious literature possesses less merit than pulp science fiction from the Golden Age, so I cheerfully remain in near-complete ignorance of the all-important East American genre featuring the likes of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and their tedious, navel-gazing inheritors repeatedly committing acts of literary masturbation.