David Harris' Science & Literature blog alerts me to something called The 50 book challenge.
It seems that the "50 book challenge" has become all the rage on the net this past week. (One version of it here.) The idea is to read 50 books in a year and, in some versions, blog about them.
I'm not sure I really understand the big deal here--I could do fifty books a year standing on my head, and have read, by my count, 30 books since late last August--or what the point of the exercise really is. Book reading as something that one needs to be forced to do, like taking castor oil or running laps around the track? It seems to me that buried in this challenge is the almost-Victorian notion of reading as the great improver and builder of character.
Don't get me wrong: I love reading, and I love the imaginative and intellectual fuel I get from it. I think everyone should read, should want to read. But forcing yourself to read, to improve yourself, to gain information because you feel you must? Feh.
Coincidentally, this subject makes me think of Mark Twain's Roughing It, one of my favorite Twain books and the subject of my senior thesis back at Berkeley, where I attempted to take a historical approach (I got a "B". As my professor put it, "This paper has many fine qualities, but coherency isn't one of them.").
Recently, I pulled my copy of Roughing It off the shelf and started reading it--though I put it back for the moment, since I can't carry around both it and the Pepys biography I'm in the middle of without risky severe backstrain.
In any case, the Foreword for Roughing It goes like this:
This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or a philosophical dissertation. It is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing, and its object is rather to help the resting reader while away an idle hour than afflict him with metaphysics, or goad him with science. Still, there is information in the volume; information concerning an interesting episode in the history of the Far West...
Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information in the book. I regret this very much; but really it could not be helped: information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter. Sometimes it has seemed to me that I wouldgive worlds if I could retain my facts; but it cannot be. The more I calk up the sources, and the tighter I get, the more I leak wisdom. Therefore,I can only claim indulgence at the hands of the reader, not justification.
Twain's protests notwithstanding, there's a fair amount of good stuff along with the laughs. And getting that information and wisdom isn't like drinking castor oil. Hell, sometimes I think that comedians are better truthtellers than the serious writers.