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Old 09-19-2009, 10:41 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Is all reading good?

It is easy to say that reading more is good. We all seem to agree it's better to read more. And many find that e-books help with reading, because they make it convenient and enjoyable.

But does it also matter what we read? Mark Twain said, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."

Clearly, there are multiple ways for books to be good for us. They may profit us because we learn. Because they make us think about the world, our life, and the people we relate to. We read in books of people who we desire to emulate in ways. Some books are profitable because they are an escape and a chance to refresh ourselves and reset ourselves in a demanding world. (If we do that with TV, for example, we may feel all the more like we wasted our time or that we are more tired than when we started.)

But I think that it's true. I'm better off for reading some books, but could be all the worse after reading others. Think about the books you read. Are they harmless fun, clearly profitable, or are they potentially even not good for you? I tend to think that we say reading is always good simply because we all have different opinions of which books are good for you and which are not, and because we optimistically assume that we only read the books that are good for us, whether to make us a better person or just to provide entertainment.

So that's the question of the day - Why do you choose the books you read, and are they "good for you"?

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Old 09-19-2009, 11:11 PM   #2
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Well first one would have to define what is good for them and then they would have to determine if every book they read conforms to that definition of good.

For me personally I would say good means any book that has some sort of positive impact. Whether that be significant, such as I learn a new skill or valuable bit of knowledge, or minor, such as I had a bit of enjoyment and relaxation whilst reading some pulp fiction.

So, has every single book I've read conformed to that definition? No. I've started to read books that I thought were crap and wasn't getting any enjoyment from. So I stopped reading them. No big deal, bit of wasted time is all.

I've also read books that I thought were very valuable and provided with me worthwhile and accurate information only to find out later on that the information provided was inaccurate. In one particular instance, operating under this false information caused some somewhat serious negative repercussions.

So in the second example, reading was not a good thing for me.

As a general principle though, I would agree that reading is good.

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Old 09-19-2009, 11:37 PM   #3
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I thought about posing this same question to the board myself. Especially with all the hubbub about Dan Brown's new book. I think people are getting sick of all the Dan Brown hating, though. (To be fair, though, I'm sick of all the Dan Brown praising. )

I think fiction should challenge a reader at least a little. There should be something artful about the writing and the language itself. There's more to writing than just telling the reader a simple story. Writers who do that have done little to differentiate themselves from the oral tradition of storytelling. And today we have so many mediums for simpler storytelling (comic books, radio, movies, TV). How many people here without kids still regularly read Dr. Seuss? While amusing, they were written for kids because it actually challenges (an entertains) kids who are learning to read. I get nothing more out of reading someone like Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer than I do reading Dr. Seuss (I might actually enjoy Dr. Seuss a little more because of all his zany words and rhymes and the reader may actually learn something about poetic meter). If there's virtually nothing different between the Twilight movie and the book (and I don't recall there being any real difference), why have the book at all?
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Old 09-20-2009, 12:02 AM   #4
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I think all books are good for someone, the author, the reader, even the great unwashed masses may benift even if they never read a particlar tome. The only question I would pose as to why a book is 'good': Who would censor the censors?

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Old 09-20-2009, 12:12 AM   #5
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We read for many reasons. I think one can learn things from even the most terrible of books. (e.g. Mein Kampf or any other over-the-top propaganda) Plus, reading is a muscle. I know so many folks who tell me, "I used to read, but now..." etc. etc.

So sometimes we read to learn, sometimes we read for sheer fun, I think what matters most is the *habit* of reading, which should be kept up at all costs....
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Old 09-20-2009, 12:42 AM   #6
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What about Paladin Press type books? I'm sure a fair amount of people would like to limit access to books that discuss the production of explosives, nerve gas, automatic weapon conversion, silencers, meth and GBH production, lock picking, computer hacking, false ID production -- I think you have the idea.

When I was younger I loved reading these kind of books. As a teenage boy I preferred non-fiction that allowed me to fantasize. I even actually did some of the things I read about. I've picked locks. I learned how to play poker really well as a kid (I've won tournaments as an adult). I've done things I don't care to admit. I have to believe that books like these are certainly not good for many individuals.

However, it was fantasies of computer hacking that lead me to learn how to program, and for the last 20 years I've made my living as a software developer, primarily in the medical field. I out grew the desire to hack into bank or government computers or whatever, and I eventually became a productive member of society. How many software developers were drawn to the field for similar reasons? How many chemists were drawn to the field by the lure of creating explosives or drugs? How many boys (or girls) have been attracted to the dark side of knowledge but because of their sense of right and wrong eventually went into law enforcement or something productive instead?

Would even banning books of dangerous knowledge ultimately harm society?

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Old 09-20-2009, 01:01 AM   #7
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What about Paladin Press type books? I'm sure a fair amount of people would like to limit access to books that discuss the production of explosives, nerve gas, automatic weapon conversion, silencers, meth and GBH production, lock picking, computer hacking, false ID production -- I think you have the idea.

When I was younger I loved reading these kind of books. As a teenage boy I preferred non-fiction that allowed me to fantasize. I even actually did some of the things I read about. I've picked locks. I learned how to play poker really well as a kid (I've won tournaments as an adult). I've done things I don't care to admit. I have to believe that books like these are certainly not good for many individuals.

However, it was fantasies of computer hacking that lead me to learn how to program, and for the last 20 years I've made my living as a software developer, primarily in the medical field. I out grew the desire to hack into bank or government computers or whatever, and I eventually became a productive member of society. How many software developers were drawn to the field for similar reasons? How many chemists were drawn to the field by the lure of creating explosives or drugs? How many boys (or girls) have been attracted to the dark side of knowledge but because of their sense of right and wrong eventually went into law enforcement or something productive instead?

Would even banning books of dangerous knowledge ultimately harm society?
Yes, it would. I don't think the op was asking if any books should be banned. Personally, I don't condone censorship under any circumstances. I do think there is certain literature people should seek out, though, rather than simply reading the "blockbusters" that are usually pretty shoddy as far as writing goes.

However, even if a book isn't good for someone, I would never wish to see it censored or banned. Censorship degrades the freedom of everyone.
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Old 09-20-2009, 01:03 AM   #8
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In many ways this is a twist on the old "You are what you eat" line. You are (or become) what you read. To that end I read a lot of books that make me uncomfortable or present a new way of looking at something I thought I already knew -- books that have a different point-of-view than I have. Some I love for their logic and reason, Voltaire is a great example. Some for their insight such as City of God. Some refresh and enrich me such as Mark Twain's work. Others are are great literature (too many to name.) Then sometimes I just like a good story such as Haggard or Conan Doyle.
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Old 09-20-2009, 01:20 AM   #9
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Twain's statement I think refers to inclusion, rather than exclusion.

However, even that makes a lot of assumptions. I sometimes help illiterate adults learn how to read, and they'll probably never get as far as some of the classics, unless they're very lucky and motivated. However, even a children's book can be an emotional event for some of these people. Does that mean they are of sufficiently simple emotional development that even a child's book can elicit a reaction? No. Had I told the story to them orally, they would have found it childish and uninspired.
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Old 09-20-2009, 01:55 AM   #10
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Twain's statement I think refers to inclusion, rather than exclusion.

However, even that makes a lot of assumptions. I sometimes help illiterate adults learn how to read, and they'll probably never get as far as some of the classics, unless they're very lucky and motivated. However, even a children's book can be an emotional event for some of these people. Does that mean they are of sufficiently simple emotional development that even a child's book can elicit a reaction? No. Had I told the story to them orally, they would have found it childish and uninspired.
If they're illiterate then they obviously have something to gain by reading children's books. It's more challenging for them than those of us who have been reading our entire lives. Similarly, reading a Spanish children's book is challenging for me and a worthwhile endeavor to improve my Spanish skills.
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Old 09-20-2009, 02:07 AM   #11
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If they're illiterate then they obviously have something to gain by reading children's books. It's more challenging for them than those of us who have been reading our entire lives. Similarly, reading a Spanish children's book is challenging for me and a worthwhile endeavor to improve my Spanish skills.
That's largely my point. Most such people aren't intellectually inferior really (some are quite a bit more intelligent and up on society than some of the PhD grads I know). I think the spirit of Mr. Twain's quote, at least in the world that I know and not necessarily his world, is that people should not be satisfied with the common, and should aspire to see and do and know great things. The literate often take their literacy for granted. In such cases, complacency is stagnation.
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Old 09-20-2009, 02:39 AM   #12
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Yes, it would. I don't think the op was asking if any books should be banned. Personally, I don't condone censorship under any circumstances. I do think there is certain literature people should seek out, though, rather than simply reading the "blockbusters" that are usually pretty shoddy as far as writing goes.

However, even if a book isn't good for someone, I would never wish to see it censored or banned. Censorship degrades the freedom of everyone.
Your right. I actually knew the original poster was essentially asking if reading books that are the equivalent of a mindless TV show was still good for you. However, in my own mind I took that a bit further and wondered if reading anything you chose was bad for you (thus I responded to something that wasn't even asked).

As to the op's question, I think it is possible to read too much. The same as if you did any activity too much, as there comes a point where you start neglecting family, friends, and other priorities, but other than that, I think anything you is read is good as long as you enjoy it.
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Old 09-20-2009, 05:00 AM   #13
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I think we all know reading 'snobs.' Just as we know eating snobs. (The sort who say 'I'd NEVER set foot in a fast food restaurant,' or 'I never eat left overs!') Those readers who say 'I never read anything that isn't included in the Compendium of the World's Greatest Literature.' 'May God strike me down if I read a common novel!' 'I don't even own a TV. I only read!'

While Beef Wellington or Veal Cordon Blu are delicious, so is a slice of pizza from the corner pizza parlor or a donner kabab from the local kabab shop. Pizza may well be more healthy than Beef Wellington!

I love reading Homer. I love to dive into Dickens and Shakespear. I can spend a nice weekend with Tolstoy. But I can spend just as nice a weekend with Robert Parker, John Sanford, or Lee Child. Come Monday morning I'm no better nor worse for having read any of them. Perhaps if I read those Paladin Press books I might even have gained some handy skills. Of course, reading Aristotle gives me some skills too.

All the reading I do gives me pleasure. (I don't read newspapers...) It's relaxation, education, meditation, and sublimation. And it's all good for me. Just as long as I don't read the newspapers.

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Old 09-20-2009, 05:15 AM   #14
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I don't think reading is good or bad in itself. I enjoy reading, while other people prefer going to the movie, listening to music, hanging out with buddies, or collecting "friends" on Facebook. Does that make me a better person than they are? I doubt it. I certainly have access to things they are missing on, but I'm also missing on things they enjoy (well, except for the Facebook thing, I'll just pass, thank you very much).

As for the content... well, any kind of message or data can be hurtful if you don't take it in context. Reading My Kampf as a way to learn more about Hitler and how he came to power may be good. Reading My Kampf in order to use Hitler as a role model is bad. Reading My Kampf while not knowing what Hitler did once he was in power can be dangerous.

Encouraging people to read is great, but teaching them to assess what they are reading and place it in the context it was written in, and teaching them to make up their own opinion instead of just absorbing what they read, is even better.

So yes, maybe reading can be bad in some circumstances, but ultimately it's up to the reader to figure it out. What we need is better educated readers, who can read potentially dangerous books, not a committee to identify dangerous books and ban them or label them.

And let's not forget that most of the reading nowadays is not done on books. It's done on the Internet. Which makes the question of educating readers even more relevant and critical, I think.

Funny, I had no idea when I started typing my reply that I was going to say something like this

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Old 09-20-2009, 05:46 AM   #15
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As for the content... well, any kind of message or data can be hurtful if you don't take it in context. Reading My Kampf as a way to learn more about Hitler and how he came to power may be good. Reading My Kampf in order to use Hitler as a role model is bad. Reading My Kampf while not knowing what Hitler did once he was in power can be dangerous.
I fully agree. Replace "Mein Kampf" with another one-word title that starts with "B" (or with "Q", for what's worth) and it's exactly the same
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