Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on reading, inspired by Neil Gaiman's library.

What I love about these pictures of Neil Gaiman's bookshelves (apart from the "OMG! It's Neil Gaiman's bookshelves! Squee!" factor) is how it shows that his library is an expression of his interests - at least, what I assume to be his interests. You see plenty of SF, fantasy, horror, and graphic novels. And a cat. It looks nothing like those massive, beautiful, leather-bound libraries which used to strike me as the epitome of what a library should be.

It is probably not coincidental that I was most impressed with those libraries when I was most under the sway of the "great books" mentality. Mind you, I do believe that the great books are truly great and are worthy of our attention. But at that time I felt guilty reading a book I enjoyed if it was not part of the great books canon. I had, as C.S. Lewis calls it, a hygienic view of reading. I read what I thought was "good for me".

(And before that time I collected books by authors that were popular in my circle of friends. For most of my reading life I have allowed myself to be influenced by others' taste and not my own.)

I don't want to say that the answer is just to read what we enjoy. We should, of course, but I also believe in reading challenging books and books that are outside our normal interests. One of the purposes of reading is to step outside ourselves and view the world through different eyes. If we only read in our favorite subjects or genres then we're less likely to move outside ourselves. If we do not read the great books then we will only ever see the world through lesser eyes.

Read what you like - but don't limit yourself to the familiar and easy. Rebel against anyone who tries to dictate to you what you should or should not read. By all means read the great books, but because you want explore the world in a new way and not because it's "good for you". For some people these lessons are obvious. But for those of us who have been overly concerned about others' opinions, they're the result of a long process of achieving intellectual independence.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.