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Old 02-08-2010, 12:05 PM   #1
SpiderMatt
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Change Your Mind (On the Reading of Junk)

Today's daily article from the Mises Institute is called "Change Your Mind" and is about the future job market requiring more creative (a.k.a. right-brained) thinking. There was an interesting blurb about Henry Hazlitt's thoughts on reading that I thought might be of interest to those in this community. It's not e-book specific but since it concerns the reading of "useless books," it might be perceived as more important advice in the age of electronic reading when frivolous, unchallenging reading is more ubiquitous than pennies on the ground.

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In Thinking as a Science, Henry Hazlitt makes the point that we tend to imitate the authors we read, and so it is important to only read the best books. Our thinking is formed by our reading and it's not enough to only occasionally read serious work while mostly reading useless books, magazines, and newspapers. People don't think the shallow reading harms them, but it does. "This is just as if they were to buy and eat unnutritious and indigestible food," Hazlitt explains, "and excuse themselves on the ground that they ate nourishing and digestible food along with it."

"One good meal will not offset a week of bad ones; one good book will never offset any number of poor books." For one to stay competitive, a person can't be satisfied that they have already read the required substantial books and can now relax and only ingest junk.
With all the (quite appropriate) bashing of the likes of Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer that goes on in any literature community (to say nothing of my own biases and lit-snobbery), I thought this was a good defense of quality reading. Of course, at some point the line between quality and "useless" must blur so the question of what constitutes a "good book" must inevitably come up.

Thoughts?
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Old 02-08-2010, 12:18 PM   #2
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Does he have any kind of evidence?

I would have thought that integrative, so called "right brained", thinking would be enhanced by reading a wide range of different material (both in terms of subject matter and "quality").

My advice would be the opposite - to actually sample something which you normally wouldn't in order to expand your horizons.
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Old 02-08-2010, 12:21 PM   #3
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Damn. I'll read anything, even the back of a cereal box at breakfast.
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Old 02-08-2010, 12:26 PM   #4
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Well I think it partly depends on what your after.

There is a time and place for everything.

Personally I read everything I could get my hands on, starting from age 12.
From my Dad it was Louis L'amour westerns, from Mom, English Historical Novels. From Grandmother James Michener, Hemingway, Kipling, etc. Along with popular books of the day from Costain and Forester. To that rather eclectic mix I added the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Much of which was rather light fluffy stuff, but a very nice break from the heavier chewing.

To my opinion, this left me quite well rounded. Whats more it left me quite well balanced. And able to read between the lines as to what the author was trying to accomplish. What bias or prejudice effected him. It certainly didn't hurt my vocabulary any. I've had college professors ask me where I got my graduate degree after speaking with me for a few minutes. All were astounded to find I didn't have any college degree.

To me with books as with everything else, moderation in all things is the key.
Too much of anything can be harmful. Try to find a balance between what is good for you and what feels good.

Last edited by GhostHawk; 02-08-2010 at 12:29 PM.
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Old 02-08-2010, 02:32 PM   #5
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who's to define where worthless reading starts and stops for every individual? I have a dear friend, who bless her soul, is not the sharpest crayon in the box, and these historical romance novels are her cats meow. but she reads! there is no way she could, would or should read what I would consider "serious" work. there's not always enough of what I consider "serious" work available for to read (granted this is changing with ebooks). but even though I read a much different class of fiction than my friend does when I am taking a break from "serious" work, who's to say that is not just as necessary to me as the academic stuff? your brain needs recess just as much as it needs good hard skull sweat.
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Old 02-08-2010, 03:16 PM   #6
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The book almost certainly falls under "junk science" and therefore, using his logic, not worth reading. A Catch-22 situation.
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Old 02-08-2010, 03:19 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by MikeRo View Post
The book almost certainly falls under "junk science" and therefore, using his logic, not worth reading. A Catch-22 situation.
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Old 02-08-2010, 05:59 PM   #8
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I think he is wrong. I read my daily requirement of good stuff, and I just read junk like I eat junk food - very sparingly, and not in replacement of the nutricious food I need to survive. This guy probably watches reality TV, which I consider worse than any piece of trash I could pick up to read. (Sorry to all those who like America Idol, etc.)
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Old 02-08-2010, 06:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SpiderMatt View Post
.



With all the (quite appropriate) bashing of the likes of Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer that goes on in any literature community (to say nothing of my own biases and lit-snobbery), I thought this was a good defense of quality reading. Of course, at some point the line between quality and "useless" must blur so the question of what constitutes a "good book" must inevitably come up.

Thoughts?
So........If I read the book "The Da Vinci Code" and thoroughly enjoyed it because it gave me an alternate point of view to a long established religious opinion............that would not be 'quality reading' in your opinion because the author was Dan Brown?

Who decides what is "good" and "bad"?

Reading can be, and is, an escape for many.

Personally, I think people should read what they enjoy........and the rest of us, including so called 'experts' should mind our own business.

But......thats just me.
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Old 02-08-2010, 08:25 PM   #10
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IMHO, whatever does not challenge the man will not contribute to his growth; but simply because his brain cannot survive in total chaos with no conforming pattern, he can't push it to the very limit, it's just not defined there. This leaves it up to him, to decide, how is he going to answer the (eventually) equivalent question of "what have you done with your age?". To me, everything can be broken down to "justifiable" in some way or another, and that's what renders the criterion futile.

Last edited by dioib; 02-08-2010 at 08:29 PM.
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Old 02-08-2010, 09:40 PM   #11
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Well, I'll throw my opinion in... I read both King's and Myers's latest books, and I came away disappointed with Mr. King's, and satisfied with Ms. Myers series. I'm going to throw a big mud encrusted snowball in Mr. Kings face for his comments about the Meyer books, from where I stand he doesn't have a leg to stand on.
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Old 02-08-2010, 09:59 PM   #12
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Interesting thoughts but I disagree. I read more than my fair share of junk and I still do. Now, I don't have an exclusive junk-reading diet but I don't see how junk has harmed my critical thinking. As far as what constitutes junk, aside from poor use of the English language I'll have to plead the art case. I know it when I read it.
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Old 02-08-2010, 10:41 PM   #13
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Isn't our thinking influenced by a lot of factors, including what we read? The his argument could be applied to everything we see, watch and do.

But doesn't the ability to relax, smile or be entertained also improve one's mental and physical well-being? I would argue that is just as important.

While I try to pick books that broadens my outlook/knowledge, there is nothing more relaxing after a stressful day than settling in with a book that has no use other than to entertain. Some people watch TV, I read.

Last edited by Boston; 02-08-2010 at 10:43 PM.
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Old 02-08-2010, 10:50 PM   #14
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Reading habits generally form early and certainly help shape one's outlook and thought framework.

And generally, just as is the case with other arts, once a certain level is achieved, it is hard to enjoy stepping down much.

So, in other words, Dan Brown's books are kind of like the velvet paintings of literature.
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Old 02-09-2010, 01:29 AM   #15
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If Cervantes had never read the worst romance novels of his time, he would have never written Don Quixote. End of story.
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