The Need to Read
Or: Less Talking, More Reading
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all. —Oscar Wilde
…I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures. —Edgar Allen Poe
My late grandfather—John Timothy Landers—was a walking encyclopedia; a man bursting with quick wit and clever quips. Were I to run through his entire repertoire, I would be writing (and you reading, I pray!) for days on end.
To spare both you and me, I share one of my favorite quotes, one of his most profound aphorisms:
Education is the lightest burden you will ever carry.
Among the many gifts that he gave me, the most impactful doubled as the most basic: it was no more than a frail, tiny seed.
Not a literal seed, mind you, but a figurative one.
You see, from a young age he planted within me a seed of curiosity; one that grew slowly, steadily into my current, vibrant, towering love of learning.
By first reading aloud and then reading alongside, my grandfather showcased how the most talented authors effortlessly unspooled, cleverly recounted, and skillfully concluded tales both true and tall.
He helped me realize that reading represented a conversation between reader and author—the former living and the latter sometimes dead—that this simple act led to an inheritance of wisdom from generations past.
He taught me to read with a critical eye, but to read everything: fact and fiction; classics and crap; bullshit and Bible.
Ironically, he made me empathize and feel a strange sort of kinship with the protagonist of the below Twilight Zone episode (sans eerie, dismal ending that is):
And so, I read.
And read some more.
In fact, I am likely reading as you finish this very sentence.
Yes, right now.
Candidly, I think that you should too.
Neither the author nor genre matters. Hell, pick up Fifty Shades of Grey if it frees you from your phone’s grip (who is holding whom I ask you?).
To beat this dead horse, I close with an excerpt and an example.
As I wrote in a previous piece, Stop Tweeting, Start Thinking:
We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.
—E. O. Wilson
…[Reading] allow[s] one to mine the past for resources that will help him/her construct a better future.
Why study this past?
History is a tremendous source of fundamental knowledge.
History tends to repeat itself, so the dilemmas and decisions you face today often have historical antecedents.
Per the Book of Ecclesiastes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Put more simply, studying the rich intellectual and cultural history of past peoples and civilizations helps us know how to respond to the uncertainties of the future.
Ironically, timeless ideas are powerful because of their age and durability. Tried and tested through the years, they have stood firm against the test of competing ideologies and fervent iconoclasts.
In short, these ideas benefit from the Lindy Effect.
The Lindy effect theorizes that the future life expectancy of an idea is proportional to its current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy. Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time.
Viewed through this lens, the age of these ideas, tomes, philosophies, theories is an asset, rather than any sort of liability.
Well then, enter the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.
The idea behind the hypothesis—Linguistic Relativity—suggests that one's available vocabulary determines the ways one's mind makes sense of the world. Put simply, our reality is defined—literally and figuratively—by the words we have at our disposal. After all, to a hammer everything is a nail.
In this way, a rich lexicon constructs a vivid world.
The easiest way to make your reality more colorful and vibrant is to learn new words.
To learn new words, read more books.
I hope they do yours as well.
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email or following me on Twitter.
With sincere gratitude,