Alchemical Thoughts

Some random thoughts on why I read serious stuff now and then

Posted on: August 18, 2010

This small piece is inspired by this article, "Getting a Mental Kick From Tackling Tough Books," by Blake Gopnick in The Washington Post for August 15, 2010.

* * * *

I may have mentioned before that I tend to read at least three books at any given time. My basic rule is to have a fiction work (novel or short fiction collection), a nonfiction work, and a graphic novel, manga or comics compilation. Having four or five books going at the same time is not uncommon for me. One reason I do it is because I like reading based on my mood. Sometimes I feel like reading fiction in order to escape, and other times I want something serious, or just something cool and/or visual. I try to strike a balance between light stuff and serious stuff, and I think it shows on my annual end-of-year reading lists. Here is my list from 2009 to provide an example.

I read to keep up. I read to expand my knowledge. It makes me a better person. It also makes me a better librarian, and I think it helps me be a better writer.

As readers' advisors, we preach and practice the rule of "don't apologize for your reading tastes." That rule is meant to convey to our clients that we will not judge them when they come in asking for a good book on whatever genre or topic they may be interested in. I may not like a particular genre, but my job is to find that client her next good reading experience. Yet at times we wish some people would pick up a substantial book once in a while. We may not tell our clients this. After all, librarianship has evolved quite a bit from the days when librarians did actively promote reading only for edification, the days when fiction was taboo. We have come a long way, and yet we still have some ways to go. We still talk in our profession about how much we should do to maintain that idea of nurturing an informed and educated citizenry to safeguard democracy. But I am digressing a bit.

When I say that I wish some people would pick up a challenging book, I do not only mean a book that is substantial and dense. I do think readers should challenge themselves with one of those books once in a while. I also mean books that challenge the reader to see opposing views and those who espouse different views and ideas. Sun Tzu advocated in The Art of War that you need to know your enemy. By reading something written by an author that you may disagree with, you are getting to know your enemy. You get to see their side, and this may well help you learn how to counter their arguments and stand your ground.

Plus, reading challenging works also means your brain gets a workout, which is the point the author of the article is making. So, keep reading for fun and amusement. It's ok to have a bag of potato chips once in a while. Yet you also need some serious nutrition, and good books are the nutrition for your brain and your critical thinking skills.

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