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Reading and Writing and Books and Books

June 12, 2012

Every year new students come into my office and my home and look at all my books. I have a lot of books. And every year I get asked the dumbest question in the world, “Have you read all those books?” I say, “Of course not, why would you think that?” They usually reply with a blank stare.

I reply with two points.  First, I say, books are for things you don’t know. If I knew everything in these books then why would I need them? All these people knew things that I don’t know and they wrote them down so that I could get at their knowledge and understanding. Books are just other people’s brains on your shelf that you have access to whenever you want. Look around, this room is full of people you can have a conversation with. I talk to and argue with these people all the time.

And, second, not every book was written to be read starting with the first page and ending on the last. Not all books are made that way, and I rarely read a book like that. It has been a long time since I carefully read through a book from beginning to end to take to heart what the author has to say. I don’t approach a book to see what the author has to say, I loot it. With me, opening a book is like breaking and entering. I steal, I plunder, I mug authors all the time. I take what I can get out of them and run away as fast as I can.

So, no, I have not read every word in every book I own. And, I will keep buying more books even though I have not read all the ones I already own because there is a lot I don’t know. A large library is evidence of how much you don’t know, not of how much you know. And you need more books. I have little time for people with enough books or who have read all the ones they own.

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