Monday, December 22, 2008


I never really read books growing up. In high school it was music. It wasn't until I started college that I started reading, that I even wanted to read. But because I had no lifelong habit of reading, I had to make myself.

Now I have such interests--all bookish--that I almost have to discipline myself in the other direction. I'm going to have to start organizing my reading.

The problem is I might read A for one reason, and B for a totally different reason. Reading is never entirely about leisure for me, nor is it entirely about edification. I suppose one might put it this way: for me, leisure should be edifying, and edification should be leisurely. I do not buy in to this modern idea of making study just one more form of work. Nor do I buy into the modern idea that work ought to be one more form of learning. Work is one thing and learning is another thing. Traditionally speaking, leisure is learning. Our contemporary notion of leisure as mere "recreation" or "play" is flawed. That is not what leisure meant to Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, et al.--it didn't even mean that to T. S. Eliot (the bastard).

I used to go to the cafe with a whole pile of books; I would seriously be reading between four and seven books at a time, on average. Now I am more about authors than about topics. It is particular minds that intrigue me. And, just as I don't see why one should read a book once that shouldn't be read over and over again, I also don't see the point in reading any author all of whose books I would not eventually read. Often, if only one or two of his books are good, it's not even worth reading those.

Given the latter point, I almost have a medieval sense of reading. Authors are not just (our conception of) "an author"--but the medieval sense of auctores, i.e., authorities. That's right: there was a time--so long ago--when people used to actually believe that the person read was smarter than the reader.

And that is what I believe. Reading books should be about conforming to the authors. If you don't want to conform to that author, you shouldn't read him. If you don't like him, deep down, if you keep reading him, at some point he's going to slip into your subconscious and contaminate it. If you want to think like him, that's one thing. But if you find him contemptible, beware. He will get in, especially if he's good (and why on earth would you bother reading him if he wasn't good?).

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