Some things never change...
People who say they cannot find time to read anything, except a detective story or some other work of current light fiction now and then, are deceiving themselves; and self-deception is an evil to be modified or corrected at all hazards, for it is infinitely worse than the habit of deceiving others.
It were far better for a man or a woman to give the real reason why he or she rarely reads than to give the false one that he or she cannot find the time. It would be better to say, "I am such a confirmed movie addict that I have to go to a movie two or three times a week, and, then, of course, I play bridge," or "My mind is so jaded by the fast life I lead that I cannot concentrate on a book long enough to make any sense out of the words, unless the book is spicy with sex or full of murder and sudden death," or "I am so indolent and my mind is so slothful I can't make the effort to find out anything about the world of the mind, the spirit and the imagination; I am content with the little effortless, half-awake world of platitudes which circumscribe my life."
Any such confession of the real facts of the matter would be better for the soul than the self-deceiving untruth of saying, "I can't find any time to read."
I didn't write that--It's a quote from a book called The Joys of Reading: Life's Greatest Pleasure, by Burton Rascoe and it was written in 1937. Perhaps the references to movies instead of television and bridge instead of video games gave it away?
But the sentiment rings so true and sounds so very contemporary, doesn't it? It's sort of hard to believe that 80 years ago, people were more interested in seeing a (black-and-white!) movie or playing an insipid card game than reading the really exciting new books by authors like Pearl Buck and Ernest Hemingway, or the worthwhile books that were classics even then, by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens.
Why do we always seem to imagine that things are worse today, concerning books and reading, than they were a couple of generations ago? We imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents were much wiser, and devoted their spare time to worthwhile literature instead of fleeting entertainment. Why? If Burton Rascoe's opinion is valid, it appears they were much the same as we are.
The irony of all this is that the only way to apprehend that thoughtful reading, both widely and deeply, has always been the province of the few and not the many is to read, and read a lot. And that reading has to extend into the past. Reading only current literature will not give you the insight that people in Victorian England, Renaissance Italy, ancient Greece and Rome, and the Garden of Eden were exactly the same sort of people as you and your neighbors.
When a moment of free time opens up, be it 15 minutes, an hour, or a day, a person is faced with a choice of how to occupy it. Idle entertainment or serious reading? Nine times out of ten, desultory entertainment wins out over any serious pursuit, which is why you are reading this blog post instead of, for example Paradise Lost or The Good Earth, or even a more recent worthwhile book, such as Island of the World or Jayber Crow.
But I have faith in us readers--we will never read all the excellent books we'd like to get to, but we will read some. We will blog about them, talk about them, keep them on our shelves, and remember them. And in 2090 or so, our great-grandchildren will imagine, perhaps, that this generation was a generation of readers and did not waste countless hours watching DVD's and playing video games. Because why should we expect them to be any different than we are?