In praise of readers, and those who listen rather than shout

Posted: 2017-08-07 , Modified: 2017-08-07

Tags: reading, draft

Parent: Books


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A Series of Unfortunate Events

In A Series of Unfortunate Events the dichotomy between good and evil is basically the dichotomy between “well-read”& 1.157; and “not well-read.” Why is this single quality so important to the composition of a person?

Being well-read is more than just reading a large number of books. It’s a collection of qualities: Open-mindedness. The tendency to read up on a subject before you express your opinions and make decisions. The tendency to not judge a book by its cover, or a person by his or her appearance. The idea that to make something of yourself, you don’t have to try to create something to show yourself off all the time, but it’s okay just to spend several days, or weeks, or years, just absorbing the vast amount of knowledge that’s out there already. Patience.

The dichotomy, I think, is between people who are happy with observing the world, and people who get their happiness from imposing upon the world.

Of course, we need people whose personalities are opposite too! Politicians, businessmen can only analyze their situation for a finite time before they have to act. Maybe this is why well-read people avoid being politicians, because they like to read more than they like to conclude, judge, and decide. In politics and business, waiting to gather information can be worse than making a gut decision.

I think there’s always the question: how much to absorb vs. how much to create? As I grow older I feel more and more pressure to create something. There should be a general shift in that direction, although maybe not as much as people think.


In many books the protagonists are well-read people, or at least, people who know how to look things up. Murakami’s characters all have a sort of perceptiveness. The main characters Tengo, Aomame, and Ushikawa all like reading. Murakami is a master at weaving in wisdom acquired from reading. For instance, Tengo reads a whole passage about Sakhalin Island. We don’t immediately see why this is relevant – indeed at first, the whole diversion seems just a way to pass the time.

But when you read a lot, all the different books sit in your head, and mix themselves up in different ways like a slow-brewing stew. Aside from just teaching you more about the world and other people, readings gives you the tools to talk about situations in your own life that seem different at first glance but have the same underlying ideas, and to pick transparent metaphors.