Another Reading Mistake to Consider Not Doing

The other day, while I was thinking about regression, reading the explanation I had found again and again to make sure I had understood it, a newspaper article made me aware of another mistake people apparantly make: reading too much. Instead of reading whatever comes our way, the author said, we should read only fine things and then read them again:

Wir lesen falsch. Wir lesen zu wenig selektiv und zu wenig gründlich. Wir lassen unserer Aufmerksamkeit freien Lauf, als wäre sie ein zugelaufener Hund, den wir gleichgültig weiterstreunen lassen, anstatt ihn auf prächtige Beute abzurichten.

It’s a decent suggestion not to treat your attention like a stray dog. It’s what my friend Michael lives for. And I remember how he has even used the idea of re-reading to explain people why he likes certain writers more than others, because if he can read them at least twice they must be really good. Michael also likes quoting the idea that a book that’s not worth reading twice isn’t worth reading once. He keeps forgetting who said that, but it is both witty and true, he says, so what does it matter.

If you consider the incredible amount of available books to read, reading anything twice is indeed a bit radical: It’s being stubborn, saying no to what you don’t know, and insisting that what you like is good enough for you. Which I feel is somehow a little bit wrong, ideology-wise. Sooner or later, people will say you’re a hermit and lack open-mindedness.

In any case, if you actually read only the good stuff you own again and again then at some point in your life you may not need to buy anything new anymore. Can you imagine a life like that? No Amazon wishlist? Nothing new to discover? If this frightens you half as much as me, it may help that the author of the article said you should start being a self-sufficient reader at around forty. Before that you can read whatever and build up a taste. So if you’re young, just let your mind be a dog and eat whatever it finds.

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