Reading is Fundamental

People who know me know I like to read. A lot. I think my eyeballs actually get stir-crazy if they aren’t allowed to scan large strings of left-to-right letter combinations on a regular basis. These combinations do not have to make complete sense, mind you, as evidenced by the fact that I will (and regularly do) read right-wing blather. I’ve almost always got a novel within arm’s reach lest I find myself using an unexpected slot of free time coming up with sardonic replies to the over-asked question, “What’s up?” I am absolutely incapable of heeding the call of nature if there are no magazines present. I have read the back of every cereal box in existence. If an unabridged dictionary is the only book available, I’ll devour it like a box of chocolates, savoring each and every two-dollar word as if it were the finest confection, the syllables crunching like fat Macadamias in my mouth. Mmmmmmm, scrumptious grandiloquence!

The need to read is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I remain in close touch with pop culture and world affairs. On the other hand, well, I remain in close touch with pop culture and world affairs. I love reading about stuff like 3D images of animals in the womb, intrepid children’s books, and random parking lot sightings of Cthulhu’s minions. Sadly, finding such delightful nuggets requires wading through a bunch of doctrinaire he said / she said and the chunks of regurgitated tripe we were force-fed months ago.

But I keep at it. I read the insights of the intelligent and articulate so that I remain informed, but I also read the words of the ignorant and smartly sarcastic so that I’m in the know with regard to how the other side is thinking. Of course, it’s imperative to keep facts always at the forefront so as not to fall for any old propaganda slung my way.

And herein lies the problem in the US today. Americans are getting more and more complacent (though they incorrectly perceive this as a lack of enough hours in the day) and are thus unwilling to adequately challenge anything if doing so seems even moderately involved. More often than not, they choose to believe whatever is simplest and most convenient. Everyday, I see otherwise thoughtful people resign themselves to some ‘truth’ simply because they lack the motivation to educate themselves. I recommend books to people all the time and I receive the reply, "Oh, I don't read books," more often than I care to entertain. This is as frightening as it is disappointing.

So this is my official cry out against the wave of anti-intellectualism currently sweeping over my country. The only way to beat it is to start a literary epidemic. I congratulate every single person reading this for doing more for your brain than the average American – not because my words are particularly profound, but because you took the time to read them, whether you agreed with them or not. I implore you to read voraciously and to pore over everything you can fit into your schedule, not just the things that seem agreeable and satisfying. Further, I ask that you share my passion and do what you can to persuade others to follow your academic lead. Together, we can silence the stupid.

Educate yourself. Read. Because the eventual results of rampant anti-intellectualism can end up far more devastating than you think. But do be sincere; reading Camus won’t enlighten you unless it’s actually enlightenment you seek.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
–Ray Bradbury

UPDATE: Fellow VOXer mitzie is doing her part. Way to go, mitzie!

Read and post comments


About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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33 Responses to Reading is Fundamental

  1. sonyaseattle says:

    I'm the same; I can't not read. I read while I eat, read in every spare moment…I'd be lost without the written word. I'd like to suggest that you become part of the Men Who Carry Bags movement (that I just made up). You can laugh and call them "purses" but they can hold a book, from a paperback to a large first edition hardback – and also tote your cell phone, your cash, a snack in case you get stuck somewhere, and your iPod. People who "don't read books"…well, I don't get that either. Cretins.

  2. Budd says:

    I even have the captions up on my TV. I actually read along as I watch.

  3. . . . says:

    I have always loved to read, starting in preschool. Yes, I was one of those children who had no friends and was always reading during lunch and recess.Now, I do it all day long at work (me = copy editor), so my eyes and brain are a little tired after 8 to 12 hours of it. I've found that listening to books on my iPod works pretty well (especially when read by the author) — I still get my culture and my interests fulfilled, I just don't have have to tax my eyes any more than they already are. It does limit my choices, though.

  4. Torch says:

    There is also the perspective, however, that there is no page that refuses ink – no blog that refuses a comment. Volume does not change that premise. A small comment like mine here or an entire book that took years to write MAY just be somebody's personal drivel.
    One has more weight to an opinion if they add facts, but even irrefutable facts are subject to interpretation. That is the dilemna in many a courtroom situation. It is also often where good people disagree in other areas like religion and politics.
    I'm sorry if it sounds "anti-intellectual." I do think this is a good post and that a call for the populace to stay informed is always key. I also think, however, that just reading and inputting information does not make people more intelligent. There is a certain amount of filtering that has to be done, or the good and bad inputs may cancel out each other. That filtering… is ultimately subjective…
    ( I noticed you classified things you feel are helping you becoming educated as "intelligent" and "articulate," and you have labeled "the other side" as "ignorant" and "sarcastic." Interesting…)

  5. Jenn F. says:

    I'm also a compulsive reader– I've always been that way, even as a kid, but the habit of never leaving home without a book or at least a copy of the New Yorker was ingrained when I lived in Southeast Asia. The developing world is replete with bureaucracy and meaningless train schedules and all manner of things that will result in your suddenly having to wait someplace for a very, very, very, long and unplanned period of time. I see people getting onto planes and they don't have anything to read and they kind of scare me. Furthermore, when I used to teacher writing at the uni where I went to grad school the number one piece of advice I gave my students for becoming better writers was to read more.

  6. spooktastic says:

    thanks. i keep telling the parents of my kids who can't spell or string together a proper sentence, that the remedy for that is reading. my education was through gifted and talented classes where they didn't really teach you the fundamentals of grammar step by step. i still don't know a lot of things that i'll need to buy a book about if i want to teach. direct object indirect object etc. someone will explain it to me and then the information will leave my brain. but i know how to write (when i'm writing formally, when i blog i let the stream of consciousness take over). i know how to write because i know how to read. i spent a couple of years not reading, not because i lack the desire. i kept buying books. i have bookshelves full of books waiting to be read. but i lost the ability to concentrate long enough to read them. i have at least 20 books that i've started, got part way through, put down, and haven't picked up again. but i'm getting into the habit of reading again, and i'm devouring books. now all i have to do is pick up my 100 years of solitude again, and i'll feel like i'm accomplishing something.

  7. Kirk says:

    Torch, you make some great points.I agree that there is as much drivel out there as there are well-thought arguments for us to wade through. I also agree that interpretation of facts is subjective to a degree (We may, for example, agree the duck goes quack, that it quacks at a certain volume, and that it quacks for a particular amount of the time each day, but we might disagree on why the duck quacks.)But unless you actually take the time to read a variety of sources and research the facts (which I feel many Americans do not) you have absolutely NO WAY of determining which is drivel and which is worthwhile commentary. You absolutely have to read it yourself and make your own decisions. You'll note that I commend everyone who reads this post, whether they agree with me or not. I don't care of you think Bill O'Reilly isn't the biggest moron in existence, so long as you listen to more than just him.Now, with regard to the part of my post you found most interesting:Try to tell me that Arianna Huffington isn't intelligent or that Keith Olbermann isn't articulate.Okay, now tell me with a straight face that Bill O'Reilly doesn't come off as vastly ignorant, especially in the article I linked to.And there's no way you can say that James Lileks isn't a master of obfuscating sarcasm. That's his entire schtick, for crying out loud!I should mention that I'm not saying there aren't sarcastic Democrats (just
    look at Mark Morford) or that Lileks isn't intelligent (he most
    certainly is), and I guess I can can see how that paragraph in my post could be
    construed as biased.Providing so many links ought to be seen as an attempt to clarify, not confuse the issue, though I realize that, ironically, most people who read this post won't bother to read all the links I provided. If you take the time to read them all, though, they really help drive home my point.Thanks for the fabulous comment, Torch. I think the points you brought up are helpful to understanding my overall meaning which is that the opposite of self-edification is anti-intellectualism and that it's hard but worthwhile work to educate yourself.

  8. Budd says:

    I think the bible sums it up well; "Wisdom is knowledge used." It is one thing to know stuff and a very different thing to apply that knowledge.

  9. Melissa says:

    brilliantly put! I am one of those who have fallen victim to the literary epidemic. I used to not give any thoughts about current issues, or pick up any books to read unless forced to. and after reading your article, i feel that i have no regrets having picked up the habit of reading 😉

  10. RedScylla says:

    As a very young child I was a compulsive handwasher. Then I learned to read, and I gave up all my other OCD behaviors for the printed word. Halle-fricking-lujah. I can't resist reading anytime I have a chance. I will read menus all the way through, and in dire straits have read Field and Stream and James Dobson books.My usual response to someone who says, "I don't read books," is a titty-twister. :o)

  11. Dragonnade says:

    I read compulsively too, even in my major, which is political science, I love the theory and the reading because … well.. its a book.

    Oh thank god finals are soon though, then I can spend days reading.

  12. TM says:

    "Reading Camus won’t enlighten you unless it’s actually enlightenment you seek." I love that. Excellent post.

  13. Lurkertype says:

    Are you me? (checks) Nope.

    Count me in for epidemic-spreading, Kirk!

  14. Ln says:

    I love to read too– though now that I spend my days with little ones, my book reading tends to either be aloud (The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play…) or after the kids are in bed. Something I have realized, watching my not yet literate kids, is that reading hardly has a monopoly on quality information. While reading is the best way to get the greatest breadth of information and opinions, not everyone best absorbs information that way, and there are lots of other fabulous ways to learn about things, whether it's the show on the cosmos my 6 year old is watching on TV right now, or firsthand experimentation (the best way to learn to cook), or even from the radio or podcasts. I vote for spreading intellectual curiosity in all it's forms.

  15. If I had a picture of you with a book, I'd make you a fake ALA "read" poster.

  16. Kirk says:

    While reading is the best way to get the greatest breadth of
    information and opinions, not everyone best absorbs information that
    way, and there are lots of other fabulous ways to learn about things… I vote for spreading intellectual curiosity in all it's forms.I fully agree, Ln. As far as I'm concerned, as long as you're continuing to learn and not allowing yourself to settle comfortably into intellectual doldrums, you're doing it right. I specifically champion reading because it is such a comprehensive activity; so many different things are learned just by the act of reading. And because I looooooove it.

  17. Maybe says:

    You won't believe, or most likely you will, how often I also hear "I don't read books." It's horrible for me when I'm buying gifts because the bookstore is the one place I can go and know I'll find something perfect for everybody yet I hesitate before going because, well… I've seen my presents tossed aside, still wrapped, merely because they're "always books." I don't consider myself a hardcore reader but I do believe anyone would enjoy reading if they enjoy the subject matter so, instead of forcing Dickens and Hemingway on people, I go out of my way to find in-depth books about the lives of comic superheroes or car repair or puzzles or the history of sandwiches or something along those lines knowing full well the person would love the subject only to find out, two weeks after the gift-giving occasion, they still haven't unwrapped it.

  18. Kirk says:

    I totally believe you; non-book-readers are mighty plentiful, thus my dire need to write this blog entry.I've seen my presents tossed aside, still wrapped, merely because they're "always books."I can't even begin to tell you how sad that sentence makes me. Some of the most cherished gifts I've ever received have been books. Keep it up, though, Maybe. You'll get through to them eventually. 🙂 And when you do, it will have been worth the effort.

  19. Lurkertype says:

    Maybe, I'd stop giving presents to those people, for being RUDE! I
    mean, I get lame-ass presents from my aunt, and I know they're going to
    be lame-ass, but at least I unwrap them.

  20. Jason says:

    Love the post. Sadly I believe anti-intellectualism is ingrained in this country. Not sure there is more today, or that we just see it more often with the internet etc. I guess you have to keep pluggin' away hoping someone gets it.

  21. little miao says:

    Excellent post! Wonderfully expressed. Anti-intellectualism is indeed dangerous and the results are devastating – China's still suffering from the effects of the Cultural Revolution.On a side note, I can't believe Bush actually read Camus. I'm experiencing severe cognitive dissonance right now.

  22. rogue says:

    Count me among the cereal box readers too. Heh What is wrong with me that compels me to read every goddam thing in sight?!? Yet I can't remember the last time I read a book of my own choosing… it's always school or something I "should" read… someday, maybe I'll remember what it feels like to whimsically select a book and sit down and consume it of my own volition.

  23. Essy says:

    "Together, we can silence the stupid." Truly profound. *bows* (I adore reading! It's my first true love.)

  24. Oh my gosh. People who "don't read books" make me die a little bit inside. I really don't know how I would go through life without books or magazines or newspapers (in a pinch I guess billboards and personal ads would do…) Thanks for boosting my faith in the rest of the world and their ability to think.

  25. Dylan says:

    I'm always amazed when people tell me they don't read…they don't even qualify it by tacking "books" on the end!I've always been a big reader, admittedly I tend to limit my reading to one or two genres, but still, I read prolifically. I have a friend whose fourteen-year-old spells absolutely atrociously… She uttered "horibul" to me via MSN recently, and I just wanted to cry. "Encourage your children to read!" say I, but it falls on deaf ears. "Then we'll have to listen to them read!" Is the usual response. If you don't want to read, then I feel sorry for you, but if your desire not to read then impacts your children, then I'm angry at you for perpetuating the idiocy of this nation. I expect "horibul" spelling from an under 10 child, but once they're in year 7 or above, they should be able to form decent words from our alphabet.thus ends the intelligence of Australia…may she rest in peace.

  26. AmyH says:

    Count me in with the cereal box readers – and everything else I can get my hands on. While the "I don't read books" people cause me great hurt, I also get irritated by the people who try to come off as intellectual snobs by saying, "I don't read fiction."
    Sure, I like to read a little history, my Smithsonian magazine or economic theory. Okay, not that last one. But I couldn't image life without literature from the likes of Steinbeck, Hawthorne, the Brontes, et al. Or Shakespeare? Sigh. But then, as long as people are reading, I should be happy.
    In our youth, I was a voracious reader and my brother couldn't sit still long enough to read a page. Then a teacher handed him a book about building the first Canadian transcontinental railroad. I remember the family staring at him in disbelief as he sprawled out on the living room floor, completely absorbed in this book, reading it from cover to cover.
    Moral of the story: People who don't read just haven't found the right book. At least that's how I see it.

  27. Nicole says:

    This is so well put. I couldn't agree more with your sentiments. As I child I used to read the dictionary and encyclopedia for fun. Whenever I went to the store with my parents I got a new book. Now, as an adult, I'm never without a book in my handbag. Whenever there's a spare minute I read a few (dozen) pages. If I find myself without something to read I nearly go nuts. Recently I was so happy because I went to a pre-Christmas sale at the local bookstore and the line was nearly to the back of the store, and people were buying stacks of books. So few people seem to read these days that to know that the books were going to good homes made me smile. And yesterday I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the quote of the day on my homepage:To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser.Robertson Davies, "The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks"Too true… 🙂

  28. Fattypants says:

    Whenever I finish a book, I start another one right away. Not the next day, or later on the same day–immediately. I just don't feel right if I don't have one going.

  29. Red Pen says:

    Chalk me up as another compulsive, read-anything, voracious consumer of the written word. I can't function without books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, product wrappers…you get the idea. I have always encouraged friends and family to read, often to no avail. But I persist, especially with my children, hoping that one day they'll find the book that finally hooks them. I wonder how much negative impact television and other mass media has had on reading? Are people choosing passive viewing over the more challenging pursuit of information and entertainment available through reading? IMHO, it's a poor substitute.

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