Reading is Overrated

Reading is Overrated

I love the headlines at this Guardian post: “Reading is overrated. Too many people will have you believe that our very humanity resides in books – and that’s reading a little too much into it.” So is it true? Is reading overrated? Of course I don’t believe that, but this article pokes fun at some of the audacious comments famous writers have made about reading and writing (a few of which I have sprinkled around other parts of this website.)

You’ve read the quotes. Columnist Rick Gekoski cites a few of them at his post:

“Reading maketh a full man.” (Francis Bacon)

“We read to know we are not alone.” (CS Lewis)

Or there is this chestnut from John Milton: “He who destroys a good book kills reason itself.”

Gekoski knows of what these kinds of statements about reading begin to smell. “Of arrogance, and pomposity, and what Philip Larkin liked to call the smell of bum. Here’s a nice little exercise: find a book, or an article, or a website that has quotes about “books”, or “reading”, or “literature”. Look through the examples, and ask yourself how many of these self-consciously citeable sentiments actually make sense? Because the instances I have quoted are chosen almost casually from a myriad competing instances of overstatement, false generalisation, self-congratulation and self-deception, pure silliness, inanity.”

Of course he is having fun with the quotes. But he makes a point: “As if reading were a tonic, form of exercise, or vegetable. But the notion of seeking what is “good for you” is somehow thin and inadequate here, as if drawn from the vocabulary of an evangelical huckster, personal trainer, or nutritionist.

“Reading is more important than that. Sometimes we are enhanced by it, at others diminished. We need to be able to think carefully about this, and to talk about it more accurately. As Larkin put it: ‘I should never call myself a book lover any more than a people lover. It all depends what’s inside them.'”