I’ve read an interview with Gianni Vattimo where he said that he would gladly let his kids in the care of someone who has read the same books as he did. I really liked the idea. Why? Well, mostly because everything I know I’ve learned from books. Life has been a terrible teacher to me. And I, in response, have been a lousy pupil, trying to do as little homework as possible.
I’m not a „bookworm”, no. And I don’t normally trust a bibliophile, particularly because I find his (or her) way of approaching books 1. too compulsive, 2. too submissive, and 3. too much of an alibi for overlooking his or her existential commitments.
Excessive reading is, at the end of the day, an excess. And, like any other excess, is not only less honourable (embarrassing at times), but also the sign of some, well, psychological mismanagement.
But who am I to put books before life and still escape from „bookworm” label? I dare defend myself this way: I make an intimate, deliberate option for every single book I read. I refuse to „feed” myself with books (as I often hear people saying), I refuse to „pass time” with reading, I refuse to „devour” good literature and essential theoretical writings with the guilty appetite of a lady on diet who has just found a brownie well-hidden in the fridge in a hot summer midnight.
I say NO to chaotic reading. For me, a book is an existential choice; neither an abstract, nor a compulsive requirement. It may sound like a lousy slogan, but a well-read good book is a chance for a better and more meaningful living. It’s the right antidote not only for a lazy mind, but also for a lethargic spirit that couldn’t, perhaps, prove itself in the comforting mediocrity of day-to-day living. This is another commonsensical observation, I know. But no less important.
Real life is not always designed to challenge its “owner”. And some of us don’t know how to change that.
However, most people wouldn’t dare life to its limits. A few have tried though. And most of them failed. And here comes the right book or the right author. Like, for instance, exposing yourself to extreme virtues and vices through Dostoevsky’s writings. Or get to the core of loneliness with Pessoa. Feel the pain with Kafka, fear the time with Julien Green, or experience women’s labyrinthine reasoning with Montherlant or Nabokov. You’d have to live long and painfully in order to experience (and turn to good use) all those „living tricks” available in books.
An „uncultivated” person is, before anything else, someone who fails to recognise the subtleties of the world he lives in. Someone who, generically, does not understand. Someone who cannot put his finger on his less obvious experiences, and however cannot imagine anything that’s not obvious. He betrays himself by ignoring all those ingenious hints that life throws at him. He, instead, thinks that life is worth living when someone throws something tangible to him, something like a bone, a stone, or a party. All in all, he does not quite know how to handle the infinitesimal quantities of daily grace.
To come to an end, I think that people these days learn, read and write enormously – from blogs and Facebook posts to treatises, from huge exam materials to desiccated scientific magazines. It’s a kind of sick, static and fanatic interest for all possible „intellectual” actions. But any vocation is gone. And what a painful lack of criteria!
Indeed, the moment we forgot how to live, we forgot how to read.
Now change the word „book” with the word „music” in the above text. It’ll work just as well.