Reading for many appears to be a pass-the-time on “my new Kindle!” while waiting for the next real activity. For some it’s about getting through titles on a bestseller list. That’s a shame because reading is nothing about ticking off bestseller lists. That is goal setting and true readers are adventurers. You cannot set milestones in an adventure because you have no idea where it will take you! So what is reading: it’s about ideas; it’s about people; it can be about plot but better it’s about human nature; it’s about language and its power, beauty, subtlety and nuance. It can also be about style (Proust) or social commentary and essays (lost art!). Reading is pleasure and more for even more than travel it expands (not just broadens) the mind.
I must confess I haven’t read a lot of popular new fiction but there is so much juice in the old ones e.g. from Lucretius (where he broaches evolution) to Thucydides to Caesar or Cicero; (Aristotle is hard) but Homer with the right translation is stunning and so is Virgil. I just finished Jared Diamond’s book Collapse and I would never have imagined anthropology as thriller: my world view switched. One reads a book like Hemingway’s The Old Man & The Sea and he wields a power that holds one spell-bound; the man was a wizard. And what of Gogol or Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. I’m just skimming here for there are hundreds and quite possibly thousands of great books and poetry though I find the latter hard.
Personally, I find reading superior to masturbation (I do that too so I know!) and what it does to my brain is what I imagine LSD does for some people; it’s the difference between taking the blue pill and the red pill. I’m like a cosmologist granted space-time travel into another universe or I’m like the curious little bugger who walks through the looking glass. You read a book like Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red – about artists (and murder) – and your heart pounds while your subconsciously taking in some history. What a beautifully written book!
Man as protagonist: the ability to look into the human soul and capture its essence is part of the genius of Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. These guys were deep and sometimes long but books don’t have to be be 500 pages to be stunning. The Old Man & The Sea was like 100 pages and Solzhenitsyn’s A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich was like 100 pages too if I remember correctly and they are both far superior to the mass of books stored on most people’s Kindles. (Nesbo? Pah! Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – superb).