I Have No Books, But I Must Read

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Any true reader, as you’ve probably heard, has about six thousand bookshelves in their house. A true and honest reader has six thousand bookshelves in their bedroom alone. They’ve got all the classics, preferably the Penguin Modern Classics. If they’re more of a Big Mac reader, they’ll have all the works of Stephen King, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark and/or Patricia Highsmith in those bookshelves. They hate the e-reader because it’s destroyed the great traditions of modern reading and has turned everyone into utter dunces. They read while sitting. They read while eating. They read while reading.

With the success of the internet came the so-called Me Me Me Generation—i.e. the lazy term designated to Gen Y/Millennials, and before them Gen X, and before them…—people who share their entire lives on social media. However, this doesn’t just affect Millennials, it’s a problem that affects every generation: it’s the problem of the Avid Reader. Despite every man, woman and children absolutely hating reading during our schooldays, we all can’t help but claim to be the greatest readers ever. However, much like the “aspiring writer” who only owns writing paraphernalia and doesn’t actually do any writing, the same can be said for the Avid Reader.

I know I harp on about it month after month, but the saying goes that good writers read. The other saying goes that we all have a book hidden inside us just waiting to be written. If we put the two of these together, people equate reading well with writing well. Even if we haven’t written anything resembling creative writing since high school English or university Lit classes, it doesn’t change a thing. The problem is: Most people just keep their collections of books without reading a single word, just there for display, just to say “Look, I read! I’m a reader. Look how smart I am,” or “I’m such an autodidact. Look at this copy of Python for Dummies or Pythagorean Theorems: Specialist Mathematics II. I am such a smart reader!” And that’s exactly the point of Avid Readers.

There’s a page I like to look at regularly on Twitter and Facebook—Grammarly. While there’s a multitude of others, Grammarly is the most popular page on how awesome collecting books and saying you’re an avid reader is. The problem is: Are you even actually reading? No, I don’t mean literally, because of course you’re reading now! You’re reading my blog post. That’s still reading, even though Avid Readers are keen loathers of reading anything using technology, mainly Kindles and other e-readers. You know, the smell of the book and the feel and touch and taste of the pages, etc. But…back to the topic! Do you actually read, or do you just say you do? If you’re an Avid Reader, how many of the books in your bookshelf have you actually read? If it’s less than 50%, why keep the Just in Case books? It’s not sacrilege to get rid of books you’ll never read. I know, I know, do as I say and not as I do: I still own the copy of Lolita that I’ve only read like 30%. But, for the point of this blog post, ignore what I do and hear me out.

 Just hear me out. Like Philippe the ghost is listening to his granddaughter April here.

Just hear me out. Like Philippe listening to his granddaughter April here.

If you’ve read less than 30% of the books in your bookshelf, ask yourself seriously why you keep them. If you own Fifty Shades of Grey or any silly fad book still, then you’re too far gone. Just kidding! Do you have to keep books just to keep in plain view of guests to show how sma-art you are?

The point of reading isn’t to pontificate over the glory of paper and words and to show how much better you are than everyone. It’s not to revel in the old days of the book when everyone actually spoke to each other and read more, because Plato would disagree with you there. The point of reading is to learn something new, to sit on the train or on your favourite recliner or on the bed and just let the words flow through you and enjoy what the book has to say. And, if you’re not reading, but own thousands of books, then stop lying to the people around you.

[They] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.

Plato on letters

Plato may have been wrong there, but so are the Avid Readers. History has proven them both wrong.

I have no problem with people owning hundreds of books out in plain view. I don’t care if you glorify the amazingness of the book and its traditions throughout modern history anywhere and everywhere. The thing is: Just read! Read, and don’t pretend to read! Read and enjoy it! Grab a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate, lie on the couch, and have a read. By being able to read, you’re already more powerful than at least half the people in the world. Stop being so self-righteous about reading, and use your power for the right reasons.

Put simply: stop being an Avid Reader. Simply read. And enjoy reading.

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