Read books as you wish your favourite books were read

We all have books and authors that we despise, that make us roll our eyes or wrinkle the nose just at the thought of them.

We also all have authors and books we love, I hope it is safe to say.

How annoying is it when someone scoffs at a book or writer whom we love? There will always be someone, who will always be able to find reasons to criticize, reasons which it will never be fully and decisively possible to prove groundless.

And yet! And yet, those people are wrong, and are needlessly missing out on something great. The reasons they give for disagreeing miss the point, are conjured out of nothing in order to explain why they dislike a thing that they would find to be a delight, if they would only give it a proper chance and do a bit of work to understand it.

The person who loves a book sees it more truly than the person who hates it. There’s a level of understanding that’s possible that transcends the experience of loving a book, but it takes a lot of work and even it requires some sense of love for it, at least at the beginning.

I shouldn’t be annoyed at the people who hate the books I love, when I know that I hate books just as ignorantly and irrationally as they do. I just hate different books, for entirely different (equally bad) reasons. Those books that I hate I’ve never put in effort to understand, never really tried to see what truth might be found in them.

“Why would I bother wasting my time studying such a pile of trash?” That’s exactly what they are saying about my beloved books, too. And clearly, it assumes the very conclusion that it has not yet done the work to prove.

But in a way it gets to the heart of the matter. It’s about time. We don’t have the time (at least not right now, not all at once) to study all these fields, all these perspectives, all of these different traditions, to the point where we can understand them from the inside and see their inner logic. That limitation is just a reality, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. But for some reason we get so defensive, and we try to push our own shortcomings onto those books and authors that really haven’t done anything to earn our animosity.

We should just admit that we haven’t yet had time to study a thing well enough to speak intelligently about it. We should do that with the vast majority of subjects, and we should do it impartially, without any malice. And for whatever book or author we are currently lucky enough to be enjoying, we should do our best to understand it from the top down and from the bottom up, and to find as much intellectual joy in it as it’s possible to have, before we move on to the next item on our list to work on.

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