Reading Isn’t What It Used to Be, and That’s a Good Thing


For the longest time, I had no interest in reading.  I swear it started in high school, when novels like “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Walden Pond” and “The Old Man and the Sea” sent me into temporary comas.  I think my experience proves that just because a book is a “classic” doesn’t mean kids in high school should be forced to read them. Consider:  as part of education, schools should also aim to teach kids to appreciate film (which is just as important method of showing expression as books), but who in the right mind thinks that teenagers should be watching “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Rashomon” (1950)?  Have kids read “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton so they can get interested in the sciences and understand good story-telling, then have them watch “Jurassic Park” (1993) by Steven Spielberg.  Then have kids read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and watch “Jaws” (1975) so they can understand deeper and higher levels of writing and film-making.  The teachers can have them write a comparative essay analyzing the books and films if they really want to expand kid’s minds.

When I got to college, I didn’t do much reading more out of being overwhelmed than being bored.  Being a student Boston College, a Jesuit liberal arts school, requires indescribable amount of reading through its core curriculum, but I exacerbated the problem by majoring in political science.  I would be picking up books for my classes in the bookstore and realize that there are a dozen books for each of the six classes and at least one is over 300 pages.  By the time I get to the cashier to pay for the books, the only thing I’m thinking is how I’m going to avoid reading most of this. There comes a point where the task becomes so grand that you give up before you begin because you don’t see the point of even trying.  I shamelessly admit that most my collegiate career was dedicated to mastering ways–without using Cliff Notes (which, in of itself, is reading)–to write an essay on a book that I haven’t read a page of.  I once heard a bad joke that “In college, ‘optional reading’ is ‘required reading,” but I can only presume the person who came up with this either attended a technical school or had no life.

Now that I’m working as a lawyer, I’m mired in the world of writing from hell, where letters start with “Reference is hereby made to….” and “effect” is used as a verb.  But I have now been released from the world in which reading is associated with words like “required” and “grades,” so I can seek refuge by setting my own terms on what I read. Remembering what primary and secondary school reading was like, the most important condition I’ve set is that the material has to be entertaining.  This automatically disqualifies books by John Grisham, whose books have become more dreadful with each new release since “The Streetlawyer.”  It also makes non-fiction a distrustful category because reality is mostly a bore.

The second important consideration I’m giving is speed.    Corollary is the lack of need to think.  Now that I have a job, time is most precious, so the goal is to finish books I start as soon as possible.  This means I don’t have time to be bogged down in my reading by something as silly as critical thinking.   This rule mostly eliminates books written in the English language because reading in English is a laborious chore; I have to read each word and understand it. Japanese, by contrast, is comprehension through images because Chinese characters create a glorified picture book.  The last book I read in English was “Decision Points,” and the only reason why I managed to read the entire 500 pages plus was because it was authored by my favorite political figure.

And so under the motto, “Don’t think, just read” I have become a pretty prolific reader, as measured by quantity of books, not quantity or quality of pages.  Since I live to judge, and being judgmental requires no thinking, I’ve kept track of the impressions I had of each of the books I’ve read in recent years.  What I’ve learned in the process is that the saying “reading makes you a better writer,” is actually quite false.  If it were true, just like with movies, I should be able to create a whole new category of posts called book reviews.  Instead, I’m left with articulating my evaluation of books, not with words, but in a numerical scale of 1 to 10.

So I am officially unveiling this ranking of books–both in English and Japanese–simultaneously with this post.  No doubt the care you will give to my ratings of books is as much as the thought I have given in rating them.

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