I read at stoplights. I read while blow drying my hair. I read in bed, at restaurants. I watch little TV and, instead, I read.
I read a lot.
I say this not in a sophisticated, holier-than-thou way – more in the way that people say they fly a lot or play a lot of soccer. It’s just a thing people do, a part of their lives.
So when I see an article that’s titled “How To Read More – A Lot More“, I think, “Oh yeah?”
Ryan Holiday also reads a lot and he wants to tell you about it. He shares a lot of things – a lot of things I completely agree with – about the culture of reading and its importance; he places a lot of precedence on reading as an act of betterment, of community, of an extension yourself.
The purpose of reading is not just raw knowledge. It’s that it is part of the human experience. It helps you find meaning, understand yourself, and make your life better.
But he has a lot of tips – rules, really. He talks about the investment in purchasing books, in having books to reread and to mark up. I agree with that. But then:
I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. Not money, not time, not my own laziness.
Nothing, huh? Not the death of a loved one or the zombie apocalypse? Not excessive flu symptoms? Not an impromptu, all expenses paid trip to Bali?
Basically, his tips are long, pretentious statements about his educated and fairly lucrative lifestyle masquerading as self-help or mental improvement.
(He goes out of his way to talk about his friendship with Tucker Max, which should have been a big, huge, blazing, red flag. Tucker Max is a sort of funny author, but a terrible person – and makes money reveling in his terribleness. This guy is just kinda bad at both writing and life, so I don’t think his friendship with Tucks has really helped him at all. But whatever. I should have, at the very least, suspected some mild megalomania.)
Case in point:
I don’t check books out from the library and haven’t since I was a child. This isn’t like renting a mindless movie. You should be keeping the books you read for reference and for re-reading. If you are OK giving the books back after two weeks you might want to examine what you are reading
I grew up fairly poor, but was very lucky to have many shelves filled with books. I’ve written several blog posts about my collection of books, vast and irreplaceable. I try not to be too stuff-oriented, but I doI love having books – I highlight and fold pages and lend and love.
But I need libraries. Not only is it economically impossible for me to buy every book – no matter how much Ryan claims I should sacrifice food and water and shelter to do so – it’s foolish. While books are an important part of community, libraries are as well. Libraries physically make up communities. Librarians study books and centuries worth of knowledge. They are the makers of community. They recommend.They make connections.
Libraries are also how I test run books. I don’t want to fill my shelves with books I don’t want to reread – I don’t even really want to waste three dollars on a used book if the book is awful. But I also don’t want to miss the opportunity to read something great, either. The library solves that. I have read at least half a dozen books that I’ve ended up buying, sometimes before I even finished them.
Every book, every thought, each word an author works over- they are important. But I don’t need all of them. I can take part, I can absorb, I can commune, but I don’t have to try to own every word.
Stories belong to everyone – before books (and of course, with them), there were oral traditions and songs and the stitching of fiction and nonfiction stories together and they belonged to the whole community. The connection, the hope, the restoration, the adventure, the humanity – belong to everyone. They always have.
Libraries remind us of that, and we need them.