Every so often I come across, or hear about, someone who wonders whether talking together about books is really all that it’s cracked up to be. Is it worth the time, or even the money?
I mean any books – whatever you can get your hands on, whatever really moves you, especially long form text – text that requires you take an hour or more to sit and concentrate.
It should be said, right up front, forget the snobs. There is, unfortunately, too much snobbism around books and book culture. If you haven’t read this book or that one, you are made to feel somehow less than a human being. If you aren’t on the cutting edge, you’re behind the times. And so on.
Let’s forget about all of that.
Now we happen to specialize in reading books some call ‘great books’, not because we are SUPERIOR – we are not – but because the ‘great books’ are the sort that are often VERY difficult to read by yourself, but they are high stakes books that have influenced so many people down the ages. And even if you do read one of these books all alone, they are so rich, you just feel you haven’t gotten the most out of them if you don’t have an opportunity to share thoughts and questions with others. And I’ve had many conversations on different occasions about the exact same book, and the conversation is different every. single. time.
But even though we specialize in great books, I want to look at the question more broadly. There are so many books out there that are well worth the time, regardless of whether they are called ‘great.’
I submit 3 reasons why you should read more books and talk about them.
Reading is empowering.
The act of scanning silent text is not a machine-like process, but gives you power over the content. You are in the driver seat. Think about what you can do.
- You can slow your reading waaaay, waaaaay, dooooooown. Because what’s the rush?
- Or speeditupandreadquickly if you need to. Because who’s stopping you?
- You can reread sentences or paragraphs once or twice – or three times. Because they are THAT good.
- You can go back over a cross-reference sections – double check on things you’ve read or reference made. Because you are hot on the trail of something big.
I contend this power over the basic process of reading is far more important for preparing our cognition of the content than we might think.
It is true we have control over video as well, but nothing close to the power that the written word can give us, and the kind of stimulation it offers to our imagination, our memory, our intellect, even our parasympathetic nervous system, which prepares for higher brain functions.
Your voice, your thoughts and your questions matter
Conversation has a perceived lower value than lecture. The real reason for this is a matter of experience and education. We don’t think very highly of our own native capacity to question and think things through, because we are not used to exercising our minds in this way. It’s as if we’ve always had the power to walk, but were told we can’t walk for ourselves, but must watch another person walk around for us. Serious conversation stimulates our capacity for learning to a much higher degree than lecture, because the mode is active, not passive.
Polarization is the mind-killer, conversation, the light-bulb.
If you ever read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, you might remember the “Litany Against Fear”: “Fear is the mind-killer…” For us, polarization is also the mind-killer. We just love to shout at each other, and annoy each other, through social media threads and other media. The shouting, the blaming and finger-pointing actually isn’t new. I know it seems that way sometimes, because the tech is new, but Plato described a similar situation in the political world of 5th century BC Athens.
The problem is that we just can’t seem to think clearly about things and to angrily denounce and attack our enemy in speech. It’s like oil and water. You can try really hard to shake them up and mix them, but never with much success.
If you can read books and talk about them, you have, right there, at your disposal a way to step outside of the Great Combat Zone, and create an alternative space in which you and your friends can think together freely.
Who doesn’t want to think a little more clearly and steadily about the things that matter?
Consider all the many good things can flow into our life through just a little more clear thinking, a little more insight.
Bottom line: Better living could come – not through ‘chemistry’ – but through reading more books and talking about them!