Reading books as a replacement for doing the things you want to do in life

I am on Tumblr now, which recently led to me tumbling this particular tumble., which starts “I’m still waiting for the right moment to show the world my badassness…” and ends with “…but until then, I’ll just read another good book.”

And, okay, the whole thing was probably created by a fifteen year old who doesn’t really have much ability to follow his or her dreams at the moment, but there was something about it that struck me as pretty sad, and, to an extent, indicative of a certain kind of smugness that tends to afflict people who read lots of books for pleasure: this notion that we see something other people don’t see and contain some potentiality that they do not.

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Before the rise of electronic entertainment, society used to have much more mixed feelings about reading novels for pleasure. It was thought that reading too many novels deprived you of ambition. Novel readers were dreamy and impractical and not good for veyr much. A certain amount of that feeling is present in one of my favorite quotes (from T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom).

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” 

And I don’t know. When we read all these books about being plucked out of obscurity by a magic letter and handed a mystical destiny, are we dreaming in the dusty recesses of our minds? Or are we dreaming with open eyes? I don’t know. I think that sometimes it can be the former and sometimes it can be the latter. Sometimes novels can sap our will, and sometimes they can strengthen it. Somewhere out there is a person who owes his or her survival to reading Harry Potter at the right time and place, and somewhere out there is a person who suffered harm from all the years they spent sitting alone and waiting for the world to recognize the good in them.

But I do think that we do ourselves, and society as a whole, a disservice when we pretend that overindulgence in novels–even very good novels–does not have the potential to harm us.

Oh, and as a corollary, I think we sometimes pretend like people can’t lead vigorous, imaginative, and self-actualized lives unless they read novels. I mean, we don’t consciously think it, but we don’t allow for the possibility that there is some guy (or girl) out there who doesn’t read Harry Potter (or even dismisses it) because they don’t have the same vacuum inside them that it fills inside us.

3 thoughts on “Reading books as a replacement for doing the things you want to do in life

  1. jrfrontera

    Reblogged this on J. R. FRONTERA and commented:
    A fantastic post from one of my favorite blogs on whether or not reading novels is dreaming with your eyes shut, or dreaming with your eyes open … what do you think?

  2. Joey Frantz

    I told my mom, once, that J.K. Rowling had been praised for giving hope to children in bad situations, and she said “yeah…but no one is going to come and tell them they’re a wizard.”

    It may be a tired argument, but it’s still true: a whole lot of art preys on the illusion that if you are down and out you’re one step away from being incredibly important. A lot of the appeal of The Matrix lies in the idea that disaffection is a sign of insight; that if you vaguely feel that life is just ridiculous, man, you’re actually onto something others aren’t.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Haha, well, you are kind of onto something, because life is fundamentally ridiculous. I mean, why do we do things? There’s absolutely no reason for it =]

      But it _is_ a bit shallow to suggest that reality is some kind of lie, and I certainly respect art that’s a bit more nuanced than the Matrix.

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