Widely vs Well Read

A definition of the term “well-read” plus a reading list to make one “well-read” in the eyes of the list-producer has recently been reposted. In the comments people have, as they will, disputed the inclusion of particular books on this list. I want to dispute the term “well-read.” I think the book list provided will give anyone who pursues it reading BREADTH, that is, it will make them widely read. It may not make them well-read.

I read a lot. I’ve finished 140 books so far this calendar year. Though this is the greatest number of books I’ve finished since I started keeping a record, I still read a lot every year. I have read and re-read many books in my life. I’m pretty sure that I am not well-read, but widely read. The list linked above has 33 books I’ve read, many that I’ve got on my to be read pile, plus the list names three authors I’ve read, just not the books on the list. That list of 100 also includes four books that I have no interest at all in reading, and have decided I will not read.

I think decisions about what I will or will not read start shifting me into the well-read zone. If I read widely to me that means that I read a lot of books, of a variety of genres, from different time periods, and am open to trying new books that are out of my usual range. I think I do this. Being WELL read, to me, implies some moral content; it includes some aspect of goodness or truth or beauty. Reading well means reading with these qualities in mind. It means being discerning about content and style. It may mean not reading some books, and having reasons for this.

Of course, books are differently understood with experience. I’ve talked about this, and so have other people. I read differently because I’m older than the average person who seems to write about books for popular online book pages, or produces lists for flavorwire or buzzthingy. I like hearing about the reading experiences of people who are not my age, don’t get me wrong. Most of the really good book conversations I’ve had are with people younger than I. But, lists curated by mostly younger people can have a sameness about them. Or am I just cranky and crazy?

 

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