July 9, 2017
Paul Allen, cofounder of Ancestry.com, thinks people should read more books. This geek calls most media “mindless distractions.” In an interview he says, “Our future existence probably depends more than any of us realize on the information we choose to consume on a daily basis.” The article from the spring 2017 edition of Humanities ends with, “All of the good things and all the wisdom and knowledge that we need is in front of us—we just need to choose to embrace that and not get caught up in our devices.”
I read books on a device, my Kindle. I also buy books from Amazon. I get used books from Deseret Industries and read them. But I ask myself if they are “good and wise.” Am I gaining wisdom and knowledge from Victorian mystery stories and the present The Archer’s Tale by Cornwell? Entertaining they are, but I’m not sure how much “wisdom and knowledge” they contain.
I read rapidly, so I can consume a book quickly, but each one takes some time out of my life. Yet fiction has taught me wonderful things, has lent understanding, has made me a better person. I like biographies, but normally they don’t promote the emotional stretching that a novel does. I take the on-line tests to see how my reading stacks up with someone’s idea of “must reads” and usually have ingested a great number of them as a Literature Major in college as well as a voracious reader.
Oftentimes the books I think are the best are not on the lists. And I have to confess that despite its world-wide renown, I have never been able to finish The Brothers Karamazov. I am too tenderhearted to get through the terrible parts to the resolution. Plus many famous books are “broken” books I have discarded at the second chapter or sooner.
To be fair, non-fiction books can be mesmerizing. I’m not opposed to learning for its own sake, of course. But I’m talking about what I spend my free time doing, by choice and inclination. I read two or three books at a time. One I just bought at DI because it was supposed to be such an absorbing novel in the blurb has failed to catch my interest, despite the understanding it’s supposed to give.
So I suppose I should supply Penny’s list of really good books that may not be on the “list.” But I am hampered by the quantity. I couldn’t possible name my favorite fiction writer or one book. And of course my tastes are old fashioned. I grew up in the twentieth century, after all. So off the top of my head for enjoyment of multiple books and not being on most “lists” are Dick Francis, Fanny Flagg, Alexander M. Smith, Tony Hillerman, Ivan Doig, Isabel Allende, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Kate Morton, Terry Pratchett and Jan Karon, all of them very popular. Does being popular mean I shouldn’t read them? As well, there are quite a few very popular authors I have sampled and won’t go back to. Sad to confess, some “great literature” puts me to sleep (think Dickens’ Bleak House).
The point is, some books I read for enjoyment rather than catching TV or Face Book. Some I make myself read knowing I will suffer pleasurably (Cormac McCarthy and Barbara Kingsolver), and some I read for their wisdom and knowledge just because I like to know things such as histories of Egypt and Utah (now there’s a pair of subjects!). Hey, I’m a reader. Magazines, newspapers, even brochures at the doctor’s office if I didn’t bring my book. I say this not as a point of pride but as a confession that a lot of stuff gets into my mind and it’s not all enlightening. However, not all popular fiction is mindless nor is all TV. It’s a choice that started when I taught myself to read at age four and has entertained, taught, consoled, drugged, excited, made me cry and laugh and been a companion ever since. Virtue? Vice? Time waster? Educational? Inspirational? I love books. PMA