Read a Damn Book

by Brad Nelson   6/29/14

I have no supernatural powers to compel you to read something. But if I did, I would twitch my nose like Elizabeth Montgomery (probably my first love, although I was too young to know it) and compel you to read this terrific article at The American Spectator by Dan Flynn: The Lazy Machines Kill Literacy.

I’m on record as saying that there is no way to maintain our American limited-government, freedom-based system as long as people are addicted to the idiot box. (That now includes the other idiot box, the one people use for nonstop text messaging. I’m not sure which is worse, passive stupidity or active stupidity.)

In other words, for criminy sakes, go read a damn book. Dan begins his article with this astute observation from Robert Hutchins:

To put an end to the spirit of inquiry that has characterized the West it is not necessary to burn the books,” Robert Maynard Hutchins wrote in the introductory volume of The Great Books of the Western World. “All we have to do is to leave them unread for a few generations.”

I set out about three years ago to read some of the classics – books such as Moby Dick and Treasure Island. And even earlier than that I made a commitment to turn off the idiot box for anything but old black-and-white movies or maybe the occasional sports event. (Yes, I did watch most, but not all, of the Super Bowl that the Seahawks won.)

I wish I could say that this has made me an instantly happy, successful, and contented person. But for now I’m satisfied with not being a shallow and stupid one. Ya gotta start somewhere.

Dan notes a few relevant and interesting statistics:

According the Bureau of Labor, Americans spend about fifteen minutes a day reading. They spend about two-and-a-half hours a weekday watching television and nearly an hour playing games or messing about on the computer. The feds haven’t yet created a separate category for taking selfies or obtaining new tattoos, but anecdotal evidence suggests that their popularity exceeds reading, too.

I’m sure we’ve all seen those snarky bumper stickers that say “Save a tree / Remove a Bush.” What we really need is one that says “Read a book, save Western Civilization.”

Dan finishes with another superb thought and quote:

An education fit for a king implies an understood responsibility of enlightenment for the sovereign. When 320 million people effectively serve as king, education becomes especially important. “If the people are not capable of acquiring [liberal] education,” University of Chicago honcho Robert Maynard Hutchins maintained in the introductory volume of The Great Books of the Western World, “they should be deprived of political power and probably of leisure. Their uneducated political power is dangerous, and their uneducated leisure is degrading and will be dangerous.”

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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12 Responses to Read a Damn Book

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Elizabeth Montgomery (probably my first love, although I was too young to know it)

    She was mine as well and I was just old enough to know it.

    I am not sure there have ever been a huge number of bibliophiles in the USA. About forty years ago, I recall reading some article which claimed on basis of book sales, if I remember correctly, there were about 2 million “hard core” readers in the USA. The article lamented this number when compared to the sales of Boston’s debut album which had sold something like 3 or 5 million copies.

    As someone who, at that time, would have 10 to 12 books on my bedside table each of which I would be reading, as well as having purchased Boston’s first album, I was not so sure the author’s contention or facts were conclusive. But I got the message.

    While I love books and the different places they can take me, I think bad books are like bad TV, they misinform us. Thus I think your suggestion as regards reading the great books of the Western World is spot on.

    But given the present level of education in our beloved country, I am not holding my breath. I would be happy if people would read good essays in magazines or on websites like ST. Once they developed a taste for these they could, perhaps, go on to a short novel. The Confessions of St. Augustine will have to wait a while longer.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    My family had the Great Books set when I was young; I don’t know what happened to them, but probably some other member claimed them. (I’m pretty sure my brother, a ROTC member and current Army officer until the family curse — deterioration of the cerebellum, which when my maternal grandfather had it was thought to be the very similar Parkinson’s disease — forced him out, took our set of Lee’s Lieutenants, which I had spent much time reading previously. I later got my own set, at a considerable price; on the other hand, I also once picked Freeman’s complete 4-volume biography of Lee at a library sale.) I only read a few items in it, but of course we had many of the books in school, and a few others I got later.

    When I was younger I came up with the word “elad” for electronic addict, based on personal experience. This is no doubt why I multi-task, reading as well as watching TV or using the computer. (Of course, mostly I either read or write on the computer, so in my case it doesn’t interfere with literacy — though it does slow down the speed of my book-reading.) And I almost always have a book that’s my current read (right now it’s Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam).

    Elizabeth has a bumper sticker on her car reading, “Who needs drugs? I go broke buying books.”

    But then, I’m not the age the article is concerned about. Science fiction fandom, it has been said, ages by a year every year — in other words, not much new blood, just a lot of people getting older.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I just heard on Rush’s show that Hillsdale College is offering a free online course about the most influential books in Western Civilization. You can sign up here.

    • Kathy says:

      It’s a terrific course, though I became convinced by the end of it that I am an illiterate sod. But we have to start somewhere, and now at least I am an illiterate sod who’s navigated Hillsdale’s Great Books course. I missed getting a certificate by one misdirected answer, but what fun it was to try to remember who, exactly, was The Odyssey supposed to be about?

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m looking forward to seeing what books they recommend. With all the books that Timothy Lane recommends, I had hardly keep up. 🙂

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The really interesting thing about reading the Odyssey is finding out that what everyone thinks of as the basic plot of the story — Odysseus’s troubled voyage up to his discovery by Nausicaa (which today would be pronounced Nafsika; there was a girl named that in one of my classes in Greece, whose name was given as “Knapsack” by one boy) — is only 2 chapters.

  4. Anniel says:

    Remember a few years back when some survey “proved” that liberals were more intelligent than conservatives because liberals read 2 or so more books a year than conservatives? I remember asking my husband if “War and Peace”, in either Russian or English, counted as much as “Hop On Pop.” Then we counted up our Kindle purchases for the year and had to wonder just how our statistics would have skewed the results. I’m sure everyone of you would blast such nonsensical claims out of the water.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One wonders about the evidence for any of these. Often they use studies from foreign countries where “liberal” and “conservative” have different meanings. But sometimes they have no evidence at all, as in the infamous claim that the blue states have higher IQs (a rating liberals claim to consider invalid except when they find it convenient to pretend otherwise).

      I have a button that reads, “Just think. National Enquirer readers are among the elite minority that actually reads. Have a nice day.”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Annie, Mr. Kung I thought made a valid point about what kind of books one is reading. Even so, I think reading a bit of pulp fiction is still a better character-builder than watching prime time TV.

      As for who reads more books, the conceit of the intellectual and moral superiority of the Left never ends. But I’d be extremely surprised if they read 1/4 the books of conservatives….not counting comic books or People Magazine.

      • Kathy says:

        Agree on all counts.

        I confess to an addiction to murder mysteries: P.D. James, G.K. Chesterton. I find that fiction, well-done fiction, fires up my spirit so I can do some of the harder reading and writing.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Thanks, Kathy. It’s nice to hear from you. I was bouncing between two books last night. One by the superb Theodore Dalrymple (definitely not mind-candy or mind-rot) and the other a history of the 1893 Chicago World’s fair.

          Good point about the fiction. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, for sure. Or Jane, for that matter. I love reading good fiction as well. It does fire the imagination and brings some good and wholesome pleasure to life. “Treasure Island” vs. “Married With Children.” It’s not a hard decision which is better for the soul.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    NRO has their Summer Reading 2014 symposium up. Of particular note is the first list of suggestions by Andrew V. Abela. I plan on reading Return to Order by John Horvat II. It’s free for the Kindle readers.

    Another book that looks interesting (and is also free for the Kindle) is one suggested by Heather Mac Donald: Penrod by Booth Tarkington.

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