To hear people speak of children’s education today! One will often hear a complacent parent saying, ‘Oh well, as long as they’re reading something.’ This is not much different from saying, ‘Oh well, as long as they’re watching some television program.’ People who haven’t read enough are often too reverent of books. Since the beginning of the time that books were first being written, there is not a year that goes by where it can be said that less books are being written than the year before. The world is overfull of books.
With this truth in mind, many types have developed. There exists one type of person who never reads and wouldn’t care to. Another type doesn’t read and always regrets he didn’t get started on it, believing that perhaps when he has more time and when circumstances are just right he may pick it up in the future.
Another type reads for the same reason he watches television. The only distinction between his reading and his television watching is that his reading provides him with enviable opportunities to tell his peers that he ‘reads a lot’ or ‘enjoys reading.’
There exists a type who reads what is taught at university and trusts that the university’s professors have access to a line of knowledge that categorizes thinkers and writers by level of importance. The type who makes up the ‘university reader’ may be cleverer than his fellow classmates who merely adopt the opinions of their favorite professors. The university reader intuits much larger prejudices that have greater, historical implications and aligns his agreement with those. Certain literary patriarchal successions will find their home in the university reader’s mind and he’ll be able to tell you what relationship these many writers have with one another and how that leads up to where we are today. The even cleverer amongst this group will be able to recognize opposite strains of thought in a literary succession belonging to a different school of thought. He may even be able to tell you why he thinks it’s wrong. The university reader is, above all, a surrogate for different historical narratives in conflict. At his very best, he realizes this about himself.
There exists another type among autodidacts. This type of reader consumes so much text and so often that his mind is a poster-board for everything that has ever been thought in the world before him. Among the types, this is the one who is in the most danger of thinking someone else’s thoughts rather than his own. Even that which passes for originality is always suspect, for he has collected so many strong impressions, has remembered so many passions, that that which is most interesting or seems like it ought to be true is true to him. This is the only type who can be accused of reading too much. He is the one who would benefit from a book-fast. For his whole psychology to renew itself, he needs time to sort his thoughts, dissimulate certain information or maybe forget a great deal of that which cannot possibly mean anything to what he finds most valuable about his own soul.
This type does not often benefit from a peer who will recognize this and say as much. The peers of this type will all too often admire the dark circles under his eyes, his disorganization and stacks of open books, his many complete and incompleted projects, his canceled appointments and lack of sleep. Though this type might be rare as it is, even among this type it is rare to find one who makes the leap from eccentric autodidact to free-thinker (to use an unfortunate, much over-used phrase).