Friday, April 12, 2013

"Have You Really Read All Those Books?"

"Without contraries there is no progression" - William Blake

By the time I was 13 I had a library of about 100 books. Most were science fiction but some weren't - for a long time Thomas Berger's Little Big Man was my favorite novel and I was also fond of James Michener's The Drifters.

One memory that stands out vividly was when some adult women were visiting my parents for some reason I don't remember. They ended up in my room. One woman, who I remember as being a bleached-blonde, looked at my library (most of which were paperbacks) and asked in wonder:

"Have you really read all those books?"

I had about 20 albums stacked next to the books. She didn't ask me, "Have you listened to all those albums?" No one would ask something like that.

When I was in college I never met anyone who had a library in their room. Only I did. No, I did meet one woman, but she went to another college. When I walked into her room and saw her library of about 100 books, I said to her, "Have you really..." and she finished, " all those books?" We both laughed.

I know that people do read, but every time I go into a used-book store I find the biggest section to be romance novels, which are women's pornography. There is a fair amount of action/mystery/western and an even bigger section of science fiction (which is overwhelmingly adolescent, as I well know) but anything of any true intellectual value could be placed on one shelf.

I don't find the lack of intellect among the average person all that disturbing. They are what they are. They have always been that way.

What is disturbing is that the people who advance society are only a handful, and they always have been. Generally speaking, they tend to be Outsiders. Not just that, they are often considered Nuts. That is, until they are proved right.

They are the Contraries, and I am very sympathetic to them, be they Charles Fort or Stan Gooch or Colin Wilson.

I ran across a saying years ago: the difference between a genius and a crackpot is that the genius happens to be right. If 2000 years ago someone had said if you could turn the mass of a coin into energy it would destroy an entire city, they would have been laughed at as insane.

If a person does not read - meaning there is no intellectual curiosity and imagination - then all the history and knowledge of the world cannot be accessed.

If I had to divide people into two kinds, I'd make the distinction between introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend be be intellectually curious and imaginative. Think of Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith and Einstein.

As for extroverts...think of George "Shrub" Bush.

If the school system had any sense (and it doesn't) it would identify bookish, intellectually curious, imaginative, introverted children and stick them all together. There is an easy way to identify them even if they hide: they have libraries. And if anyone asks them, "Have you really read all those books" try to catch that micro-expression of contempt and disgust.

Incidentally, there is a very famous science fiction story called "In Hiding," (by Wilmar Shiras aka Jane Howes) about extraordinarily gifted children trying to find their place in the world.

I wonder what these kids could create if they were caught young and put together. Perhaps in the long run they could make the world a better, more peaceful, more prosperous place. And, contrary to the myth, a lot more fun.

Just like in The Drifters.


MarcoP said...

What I answer to "Have you really read all those books?" is:

"I've read a lot more."

MarcoP said...

^^^ oops, angle brackets got eated.
(pause 1 sec)
"I've read a lot more."

lowly said...

I couldn't tell you how many books I'd read at age 13, but it would have included 27 of the Karl May travel stories, plus a few of his other books. I used to read with a flashlight under a blanket, or by moonlight if I could get away with it.

On the other hand, I have a nephew that I doubt has read any of the forty or so books I've sent him over the years. I do believe he likes the idea of receiving books.