Well read

Bookriot made a video about being well read, and what it is to be well read, and Nancy’s reads and Rincey reads on YouTube made response videos on what it is to be well read, and why we want to be well read. I find it very interesting. I really like the discussion, and I find it very interesting. So I have thoughts.

In the dark recesses of my mind I feel like the definition of well read is that you’ve read the classics, including modern classics, and you can quote Shakespeare and you’re sort of erudite and smart, and awesome, and basically you’re Giles from Buffy. I also think that this definition I’ve made is a stupid definition and I should come up with a better one. Because only reading classics is a bit narrow. So I’ll try to come up with a definition I like better. And figure out if I feel like it’s a goal to be well read.

I think my personal opinion on reading is probably affected or influenced by my profession. I’m a librarian, and in college when I got my LIS degree we talked about how much people use libraries and how book sales are, and how many books people say they read every year, which isn’t a lot. We also talked about what’s best: people reading in general, or is it good only to read certain books? And in that case who decides on those books? My view has always been that you should read what you want, because if you’re always told what to read you will eventually get bored, feel like it isn’t fun, and that it’s a chore. If you like Twilight, or vampire books in general, or if you like crime novels, or if you love classics, then read whatever you want, go crazy, as long as you read I am a happy camper. One of my reasons for this is that if you love say Twilight you will probably at some point want to read something else, something that will give you the same feelings, and you’ll try to recreate it with something else, and you’ll find more books, and more books. Awesome! If you’re reading, I’m pleased.

There is something I should say though. When people are reading Twilight, or 50 Shades, or anything else that I personally, in the pretentious part of me, deem as “less good” there is a part of me that wants to grab the book out of their hands and throw something else at them. I don’t, but I really want to. The thing I do though, is continuously suggest books. To an extreme degree, I’m annoying.

But what is it to be well read? Are there books you have to read? Like Rincey said, technically no. You won’t die if you don’t read certain books. Still there are probably books you should read to sort of have the same frame of reference as others. While I was in school we had a course of privacy, social media and law, and the professor used the quote: “1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual” for a lecture on privacy and control. And there was a guy in my class, a fairly clever guy, who didn’t pick up on the reference. Now to be fair, I hadn’t actually read 1984 at this point, but I knew enough about the book to get the reference. He hadn’t even heard of it, and that seems a bit, well bad. It’s hard to participate in the conversation if you don’t have all the references you need. After reading books like Pride and Prejudice and reading the play Hamlet I suddenly understood where so many quotes and ideas come from, so in that way it’s helpful to read the canon. But you really should read it because you want to, and not because of external pressures.

When I was say 15 I wanted to seem smart, and like I might have read a lot of interesting/important books so I started reading classics, and I really couldn’t get into them. They just felt difficult, and too different from what I was used to reading. I think it’s quite hard to get into classics, especially because I insisted on reading them in English, if you’re reading them out of a sense of duty, rather than actual desire. And I read them in a second language, and not just straightforward English, but Victorian English. So my first forays into classics didn’t end well. It was also a bit pretentious of me, and perhaps not with the best intentions. I read them because I wanted to be perceived in a certain way, and spoiler alert: no one gave a shit. It’s a completely ridiculous reason to read something, you should always read for yourself, unless obviously it’s for school.

I am all for pushing yourself. I had this time where I felt like I just read one genre, fantasy, and I sort of came to this conclusion that it’s a good idea to be more diverse, so I branched out. Now ironically, it’s not ironic really, but still. Reading high fantasy made it easier for me to read classics, because high fantasy is often written in old-ish, fancier, more “classic” English to give the impression of I don’t know, fancy-ness? That’s not a word. I think you should push yourself, and read different books, not because people will think of you as smarter, or better, or anything, but because it’s probably good for you to see different points of view. When you read classics you get a sense of how life was back then, which is also interesting. It’s like a slice of life. Cool. You expand your horizons and your vocabulary and all that goodness.

Why would I want to be well read though? It’s not like it makes me a better person. And it is so different for different people that I might be well read after my own estimation, but not in someone else’s. Or the other way around. Or maybe I haven’t read enough of the canon to be considered well read? But if I don’t want to read the entire sort of agreed-upon canon, I shouldn’t just to please some imaginary stranger who doesn’t give a shit about my reading habits.

So there is this little part of me that really wants to be well read, because it feels like it’s a thing you should be. And even though there’s a rational part of my brain that tells me that I shouldn’t think about it, because it’s silly, I still feel like I want that identifier. And I know that I read a lot more books than a lot of people, so does that make me well read? On the other hand I read mostly fantasy and science fiction, so I don’t really branch out much. I’m trying though, to be better. So in that way I’m not as well read. I also don’t read a lot of diverse fiction, like books by authors of color, or books with characters of color, or LGBTQ+ characters. I am trying there too. Like Nancy and Rincey said I think you should try to read diversely. The irrational part of my brain thinks that even if I do all these things I probably still won’t refer to myself as well read. Because I feel like there are so many connotations that people have, that I won’t fit into, so I’ll feel like I’m trying to be impressive. But I think that if I’m going to be well read according to my definition, or the definitions that I think the world has, I would have to be Rory Gilmore. And no one but Rory Gilmore can be Rory Gilmore. So I should probably just chill out a little.