UPDATE: And now, there is this fascinating fact: New Study Links Reading More Books To Longer Lifespan
I have a friend. Let’s just call him JP. He’s a little older than I am and much smarter. He’s cleaning house, disposing of the books he’s kept for years, realizing sensibly that he won’t be reading them again.
I’m part of the solution, happily accepting these wonderful books, with the legally unenforceable but morally binding obligation to (1) read them and (2) pass them on to someone who’s as big a fool as I am.
So far I’ve received several volumes of H.L. Mencken and S. J. Perelman and a highly prized six-volume set of David Hume’s History of England. JP’s a stickler for the facts, a lover of the English language, and better informed on history than many historians. He doesn’t stand for nonsense. That explains Mencken and Perelman. His interest in history lies deep in his DNA.
JP is a believer in democracy. Mencken not so much, but that didn’t stop JP from reading him nor did Mencken’s other politically incorrect views. About democracy, Mencken has this to say.
“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.
The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Elitist? Yes. Correct? It seems so this year. Peggy Noonan channels her inner Mencken in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled The Week They Decided He Was Crazy.
“I end with a new word, at least new to me. A friend called it to my attention. It speaks of the moment we’re in. It is “kakistocracy,” from the Greek. It means government by the worst persons, by the least qualified or most unprincipled. We’re on our way there, aren’t we? We’re going to have to make our way through it together.”
I love JP’s books. It’s not that I don’t have enough books already. I’m addicted to books, always have been. JP prefers paper books. So do I, but that hasn’t stopped me from acquiring 500 electronic books. The electronic books are easier to carry around. My wife is happy to have more room in the suitcase when we travel. A win-win.
Just this morning (Sunday, August 7) Maria Popova at BrainPickings wrote a wonderful article with the ominous title Neil Gaiman On Why We Read and What Books Do For the Human Experience.
BrainPickings is always worth your time. The article on books was exceptional except that it did not offer any advice for book addicts. I do not need to be convinced about the benefits of acquiring and reading books. What I need is help for my addiction. A book addict is in danger of destroying his relationship with his spouse, children, grandchildren, and even his friends because the book addict’s brain has no defense against the sinister mind-controlling parasite contained in all books worth reading. For a full description of this parasite, listen to philosopher Daniel Dennett on Ted Talks.
I was first infected with books at a young age. The Wizard of Oz series was a favorite that I begged my mother to read before I could read on my own. Many are familiar with the basic Wizard of Oz story made into a movie but few are aware that there is an entire series of Oz books and my mother bought many of them to read to me.
Later, when I could read on my own, I became addicted to Classic Literature Comic Books. The Hardy Boys series was also a favorite. My mother would take me to Sacramento, our nearest city, and while she shopped I would sit in the book section of the store and read Hardy Boys books.
Kidnapped, Custer’s Last Stand, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Silver Chief Dog of the North, Penrod, Ivanhoe, The Last of the Mohicans—this is a very short list of the books that enthralled me growing up. Some of these I still have on my shelves.
Surrounded by my bookshelves, I will admit to a severe case of nostalgia, to quoting Poe’s Raven, to communing with the dead, to becoming absorbed in the minds and bodies and environments of authors and characters. The parasite has its hooks deep within my brain. It is impossible to remove short of death.
I have more books than I can ever read in the years ahead. Yet here I am, accepting JP’s books without guilt because, you see, he has lead me to the solution. He, by his own example, in an act of selfless courage, has shown me the way.
“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” Luke 6-38